Students' Robots Take Over Arena for Fierce Yet Friendly Contest

Six highest-scoring groups will be able to take part in a competition in the United States later this year.

The Nokia Arena was in an uproar yesterday. Six robots scurried on the fenced-off parquet, waving long mechanical arms with metal pincers for hands and crashing into each other, while performing the only mission they were made for - hanging large colorful tires on hooks.

Hundreds of excited youths encouraged their friends, who controlled the robots from a distance, with repeated roars. They had come with their parents and teachers from high schools all over the country to take part in a international high school robotics competition.

Student's robot
Nir Keidar

The six highest-scoring groups will be able to take part in a competition in the United States later this year with American and Canadian students. The students treated the competition, which was held for the seventh time in Israel, very seriously.

"The atmosphere in the arena today, the adrenaline - it's crazy," said Tomer Salton, a 12th grade student in Tel Aviv's Tichon Hadash high school whose team took part in the contest for the first time.

Yesterday's event was the culmination of a project that started six weeks ago, when 52 youth teams were asked to solve the same problem on the basis of identical rules, with a kit of identical materials. Each kit was worth about $12,000 and the students were required to raise the funds themselves and build the robot from scratch. The FIRST organization provided guides and teachers specializing in programming, robotics and similar subjects.

This is what Asaf Agmon, FIRST Israel's general manager, was hoping for. "The goal is to inspire youths to deal with science and technology, show it's an interesting and fun challenge so they'll choose it for higher studies. There are students here from yeshivas, kibbutzes, the periphery, large cities, Arabs and Jews. Children from Beit Shean who had never been to Nokia Arena before see they can compete as equals with students from Tel Aviv and Ra'anana."

Every round of the competition consisted of robots battling three-on-three.

"All the people here are friends, there are no stupid rivalries. They all came to have a good time. The moment they declare the winners everyone comes onto the field," said Nitzan, 18, who recently graduated from ORT Binyamina and used his experience from previous tourneys to guide his high school team.

Students from Kfar Jatt, who received a generous contribution from Discount Investments but also spent NIS 6,000 of their own to complete the project, dropped out at a relatively early stage.

"It was truly an exciting experience," said Jamal, 16. Last year the team had reached the semi-final.

The winners in the major categories this year were Misgav High School, ORT Binyamina and the IAF Technological College in Be'er Sheva.

"It's unreal. We worked on the project for four months, every day until night, we built an amazing robot and had a terrific alliance with the other teams. It's unreal," said Asaf Yisraelit, the Misgav team captain, dancing with his friends after their victory.