Sydney students excel in world battle of the bots

St Johns Park and Bankstown Girls high schools are celebrating success at the 2021 Universal Robotics Challenge, writes Glenn Cullen.

29 October 2021
Two teenage boys in a school photo
Image: Need for speed: Peter Vongsikeo and Dylan Kusnadi raced the clock in their event.

COVID-19 has presented more than its fair share of learning challenges but a group of Sydney public school students has met them head-on with some of the best performances in the world at a Japanese international robotics competition.

St Johns Park High School Year 9 student Pete Vongsikeo won the 2021 Universal Robotics Challenge, World Final, Virtual Simulator Division - Germ Busters, testing his programming skills against strong competition to complete the simulator task in the fastest time of 43 minutes, 45 seconds with 260 points.

Schoolmate Dylan Kusnadi wasn’t too far behind in third with 200 points in 52m, 43secs.

“This experience not only allowed me to have fun with robots and friends, but also led me to win an international competition, isn’t that insane,” a delighted Pete said after being notified of his win.

While it has been tough for students to do anything together in recent months, Bankstown Girls High School robotics team of Year 7 students Fatema Alkhen and Winnie Bach did the school proud with their third-placed entry in the Universal Robotics Challenge, World Final, Idea Contest Division - Stop the Spread.

Already Australian champions, the pair took on 75 other teams to claim silver with their robot ‘Nabi’ (butterfly in Korean).

Nabi was designed to deliver COVID-19 supplies, such as face masks and hand sanitiser, without the need for human interaction.

A lego robot
Image: An idea with currency: A still from the Bankstown Girls High video entry featuring Nabi, a robot that delivers COVID-19 protections such as masks and hand sanitiser.

Judge Taizo Hayama commented: The fact that this robot aims to solve the very real problem of people forgetting their masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and its great features make it worthy of a high score.”

Fatima and Winnie credited good teamwork for their success.

Together we discussed ideas and made decisions that both of us were happy with. It made us both confident in the decisions we made for the design,” Winnie said.

For both schools, there are significant back stories to their success.

St Johns Park High School professional practice head teacher Angela Waesch has been developing project-based learning initiatives since 2014.

With the support of principal Effie Niarchos, Ms Waesch started the robotics club using a partnership with EduTech Australia to help buy 15 robotics kits and secured another 10 through an Australian Government grant.

Bankstown Girls has been heavily involved in robotics in recent years with support from principal Suada Bilali and maths teacher and head of robotics Julieanne Doai, culminating in a 2019 victory at the Universal Robotics Challenge in Japan.

Other schools to take part in the competition included Granville Boys High with Amin Altmimi and Charles Liu competing in the Virtual Robotics division.

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