Last week the VEX Robotics 2016 New Zealand National Championships were held at the Vodafone Event Centre in Auckland.
The event was extra special for me, as both of my children were competing. So as well as watching the action I was glad to be able to provide guidance and support (and Dad's wallet when it came time for lunch).
Events like this really showcase our innovators of the future, and it's great seeing young people working together to solve problems.
I'm incredibly pleased my children have an interest in robotics, and i've answered a few questions for anyone unfamiliar with this initiative.
The way it works
VEX Robotics, the global entity, provides kits and a curriculum for children of all ages to follow. VEX IQ (think Lego Technics on steroids) is designed for primary and intermediate schools kids and VEX EDR (think Mecanno on steroids) is for intermediate, college, and university level.
In New Zealand, KiwiBots is the entity set up to help schools and kids take part and compete in VEX Robotics Competitions by offering monthly "scrimmages" (practice sessions) in most regions, where children can bring their robots and get in practice before events.
Each year a new "game" is announced at the VEX Robotics World Championships (see details of this year's game here) and for the next year kids design and build robots which are set up for the requirements of the game.
Teams right across the country compete in the New Zealand Nationals, and this year there were 69 robots in attendance.
The winners will be attending the VEX World Championships 2016 in April in the United States.
We have a pretty good shot, and New Zealand has won most of the categories over the last 5 years.
I've been involved for about 3 years now, starting when my son showed interest in robotics and I bought him a kit.
Initially my daughter (who is now a teenager) didn't want to have anything to do with "silly robots", as she said it was what the "geeky boys" did. But after a disagreement over something she was dragged along to a competition to help her younger brother (now 12). She decided to have a go at controlling his robot in one of the matches, and loved it so much she asked wanted one of her own!
The top 8 reasons why this can set-up our kids for life
Robotics will have a huge impact on our future, so as well as being fun, it's a a very worthwhile hobby for younger generations!
Here are my top 8 reasons why kids should be involved in Robotics:
The game design sets a challenge with a number of constraints that the design must meet - there are always constraints in the real world.
2. Problem Solving
The kids are continually having to use and improve their problem solving skills.
They have the freedom to come up with ideas for a solution, and then experiment to see if their ideas work.
4. People Skills
The kids need to be able to work with their team mates - yes, many of the kids are the quiet, "geeky" ones (like I was as a kid) and don't always have knowledge about people skills. They benefit a lot from it.
The robots need to be ready for a deadline to be able to compete.
The kids are put under pressure competing in the scrimmages and competitions - my daughter gets quite anxious under pressure and it is helping her deal better with stress.
7. Winning and Losing
They fail (and have to pick themselves up again), and are able to learn from those failures. They win and learn to be modest.
8. Inspiring Ideas
They are inspired by ideas their competitors have come up with - Steve Jobs famously said in 1996: "Picasso had a saying - 'good artists copy; great artists steal' - and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas."
Many employers are now recognising that practical skills, like the ones practiced here, can count for just as much as a degree. What better learning environment is there to prepare our kids for the workforce?
If you would like to know more about VEX Robotics New Zealand, you can visit the KiwiBots website.
And here's the video of last weeks event: