We are the robots.

Well, not quite, but more than 1,000 primary and secondary school students are competing in the national robotics tournament, which got under way yesterday.

The national final of the EMC VEX Robotics Competition takes place at the Nexus Hall at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) across three days, finishing tomorrow, and the winner will qualify for the VEX Worlds Robotics Championships, which will be held in Kentucky in April.

The event at CIT involves children from Cork school facing off via their robots in the initiative, which is in its fourth year and which aims to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Stem) learning.

In September, all participating schools receive a kit, featuring programmable controllers, motors, sensors, and other elements. They must put together a robot that will then be able to complete certain tasks.

The primary school kits are predominantly plastic, while the secondary school kits contain metal parts, but both can be enhanced.

The finished robots must be programmable, so they can carry out tasks without manual control.

Laoise Murphy and Ciara O’Brien from Ballinora Nation
Laoise Murphy and Ciara O’Brien from Ballinora Nation

The competition also includes a driver skills challenge, a Stem presentation, and teamwork exercises, that sees schools paired up to use their robots to manipulate balls into specific targets.

The competition is a collaboration between cloud computing giant EMC, CIT, and Lifetime Labs and, according to EMC programme manager Martin O’Flaherty, it will expand outside Cork next year.

“It is not just the Stem [aspect], it is the teamwork that is built into the games that is really clever,” said Mr O’Flaherty.

“They have to work out how they are going to work with a partner, they have to interact with other kids.”

The standard of entries last year was very high and the winners at primary level went on to scoop top prizes in a larger UK competition.

Mr O’Flaherty said the standard at this year’s event had increased further.

“We would love to see this going national,” he said, confirming that next year’s competition will include schools from counties other than Cork.

Among the primary schools competing in the event are Gaelscoil Chionn tSáile, Kinsale; Cork Educate Together; and Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh girls school in Bishopstown.

Secondary schools involved include Nagle Community College from the Cork suburb of Mahon, and Kinsale Community School.

The finals and awards will take place today and tomorrow.


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