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Out of sight, not out of control

New Paper
29 Sep 2006
(c) 2006 Singapore Press Holdings Limited

 Fuhua Secondary's Anthony Shum Jen Wei, Mikol Chin and Cheng Zai Wei with their winning robot

THE robots were performing tasks, but where were the people controlling them?

They certainly weren't anywhere near the robots at the Singapore Polytechnic.

That was the twist in this Internet Lego Game Competition. It was part of the 22nd National Software Competition (NSC) organised by the polytechnic.

Contestants were in their own schools or in another room, and had to use a computer program and the Internet to control the robots wirelessly.

The competition ended on 16 Sep, with neighbourhood school Fuhua Secondary beating rivals like Raffles Institution and Yishun Town Secondary.

The contestants from 24 secondary schools had to use the computer program to manoeuvre the robots through an obstacle course and hit targets with a laser.

This wasn't easy as they had not been allowed to see the robots, built by Singapore Polytechnic, or the course.

Instead, they were given the specifications of both and left to work it out on their own using mathematical equations.

They could watch the competition using webcams.

Said Ms Pee Suat Hoon, a senior lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic and one of the event organisers: 'We wanted to see if we could take IT and robotics one step forward.'

And it is just the beginning, she said. She hopes to 'reach out to others overseas', such as students from America, Japan and China.

Since the competition is conducted using Internet technology, cumbersome logistics, like expensive travel overseas, can be significantly reduced, thus allowing for more regional and international competitions.

Ms Pee said this would facilitate the 'promotion of learning opportunities for all'.

So what do the winners say?

They were shy and unassuming.

When asked what gave them the winning edge, Cheng Zai Wei and Anthony Shum Jen Wei, both 14, and Mikol Chin, 13, said they applied a sure-fire strategy.

Said Zai Wei: 'Slow and steady wins the race, so that was our strategy. We went for points and we focused on getting those points.'

While they were not quite slow, as they clinched the fastest time as well, they definitely got the points they were aiming for. They emerged with the highest number of points.

Teams were granted points based on both the time taken to complete the course, as well as the number of targets hit.

Zai Wei, who is in Secondary 2, said: 'All three of us are involved in robotics in school, so this was not something we came into without knowledge. But, it is very different and challenging.'

Each of them walked away with a Sony PlayStation Portable, a Lego Internet Camera, a 1-gigabyte thumbdrive, a $50 gift voucher from National Instruments and a trophy.

Three other competitions were also held as part of the NSC - an IT Quiz for secondary school students and two Algorithm Design Competitions open to junior college students as well.

Hwa Chong Institution won the top prizes in all three.

Raffles Junior College, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and Dunman High also fared well with top placings in other events.


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