In the age of technology, even kids are capable of building robots. This was the idea behind Asia’s biggest robotics competition for school students, the IRC Open League, which was held on 30 June at Gurgaon’s Ambience Mall.
The event was organised by Avishkaar, a leading robotics company in India. Competing for top honours were 46 teams—comprising 250 students from schools, individual participants and tech clubs from across the country.
The latest edition of the IRC League marked the tenth season of the competition. Over the years, the reach and reputation of this event has grown exponentially, but the objective of the organisers remains the same—to instil a passion for science among children through robotics.
Tarun Bhalla, founder and CEO of Avishkaar said, “IRC League’s vision has been to encourage children to be the best they can be and come up with agile, audacious and resolute robots, which can compete in the true Olympian sense. The purpose is to inspire and motivate the youth to design and build robots which can withstand the trials and tribulations of the elite competition.” In line with this competitive spirit, the theme for this year’s event was “Bot-Olympics”.
After the release of “problem statements”—a set of objectives for participants– in the first week of April, the registered teams were given about two months to create the bots. The problem statement at the junior level was to design two manually controlled robots that can make stacks of different designs and formations in the designated area in the minimum possible time. The middle category had to build autonomous and manual race “kart” robots which could bypass the objects placed on the track in the fastest possible time. For the senior category, the problem statement was to build autonomous robots with the capability to race past hurdles.
The youngest participant in the competition was a five-year-old kid, Ayush Verma. His mother, Kiran Verma, talked to us about his early interest in robotics, and said, “He started tinkering with tools when he was only two-years-old. While at his age other kids would be playing with car toys, he would love things like screwdrivers. Even in summer camps he joins such tech groups. For this event he was so excited that even last night [the night before the competition] he was up till about 1:30 a.m., making his robot.” He was awarded the “Youngest Makers Award” in the junior category.
In the League, teams competed at three different levels—junior (upto 12 years of age), middle (upto 15 years) and senior (upto 18 years), according to their ages. The winner in the junior category was the Thrill of Mechanics team, and in the senior category, a team called The LLAMA.
However, it was team Part Time Tech Einsteins, competing in “Middle Category”, that was declared as the overall winner of IRC Open League. They had created a robot that could grab things and move in a straight line.
In addition to the trophy, the team was also rewarded with an international education trip.
Despite the growing popularity of, and demand for, robotics education in India, it mostly remains out of reach for students, owing to the lack of reputed degree courses.
Samar Bhutani, 14, the oldest member of Part Time Tech Einsteins, said, “At present, it is my school and Avishkaar that have given me the opportunity to build upon my interest in robotics. I think I will pursue a career in the field of robotics, but for this I would have to either get an admission in IIT or would need to look for universities abroad.” Parth, another team member, shared similar thoughts about the lack of premier institutions that teach robotics in India.
Organisations like Avishkaar are now trying to fill this gap in robotics education in the country. The CEO, Tarun Bhalla, told us, “I went to the States for my master’s where I began teaching robotics and workshops that imparted practical knowledge about the subject. When I came back to India, I realised that the Indian education system did not inculcate the ‘maker mindset’ through its school curriculum. Hence, I chose the field of robotics to inculcate this mindset in kids.”
With its mission to nurture robotics skills in students, Avishkaar has partnered with over 1,000 schools across India in more than 25 states. They run multiple programmes, including robotics labs and clubs, “maker spaces”, and tinkering labs.