School students across Australia will get the chance to program robots on the International Space Station (ISS).
For the past three years, the University of Sydney has supported nearly 500 students from 85 New South Wales schools in the Zero Robotics competition, a computer programming challenge run by NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This year, the University is inviting schools from all over Australia to enter.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students to control robots in space,” said University of Sydney Executive Director of Space Engineering Warwick Holmes.
“Over the past three years, we’ve seen NSW schools perform particularly well in the competition – with many of the schools making it through to the finals where they have had the exciting opportunity to participate in a final run in zero gravity in the ISS with assistance from the astronauts on board.
“Australia is the only country who has had significant growth in the number of participating high school teams and continues to punch above its weight in terms of making and placing in the finals competition. With even more teams participating going forward, we expect Australia’s strong performance in Zero Robotics to continue.”
He said there has already been interest from schools around the country, including St John’s Regional College in Dandenong, Victoria.
St John’s Contemporary Learning Leader Dion Spoljar said his students were really excited to be taking part in the competition this year.
“The possibility of having student-written codes uploaded to the ISS has certainly generated a buzz at our College and our students are very much looking forward to this experience,” said Spoljar.
“Getting students more involved and passionate about STEM learning and allowing them to have a hands-on, real life application in this field is one of the challenges of modern education. Challenging students to program robots to solve challenges in a microgravity environment, as well as to strategise in this international competition, gives us an excellent avenue for developing 21st century mindsets.”
Aboard the ISS are programmable robots called SPHERES (Synchronised, Position, Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites). Each year, the students are given a challenge the SPHERES must undertake and they then write code to fulfil that challenge while competing against the codes of other schools around the world. The initial stages of the competition are decided through virtual simulators while the finals involve the actual robots on the ISS.
The Zero Robotics competition is free to enter and starts in Term 2 this year, with the final championship event on-board the ISS to be held in early 2019.
In the 2017/18 competition, a team from James Ruse Agricultural High School took out first place in the Zero Robotics Virtual Championship. Teams from Gosford High School, Mosman High School, Sydney Boys High School and Sydney Technical High School also reached the finals.