For the last three years, as part of its STEM outreach activities, the University of Sydney has supported nearly 500 students from 85 New South Wales schools in the computer programming challenge, which is run by NASA and top US tech university Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
In Australia, Zero Robotics – which is free for high schools students to participate – has grown significantly each year, from 10 school teams participating in 2015/16, to 55 teams participating in the 2017/18 competition, all from NSW.
For the 2018/19 competition, the University of Sydney has expanded the competition again, this time beyond NSW’s borders.
“We are thrilled to open up the competition to schools from across Australia – 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.”
There has already been interest from schools around the country, including St John's Regional College in Dandenong, Victoria.
St John's Regional College 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.
“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 mind-sets,” said Mr Spoljar.
The Zero Robotics competition will kick off in Term 2 this year, with the final championship event on-board the ISS to be held in early 2019.
Current University of Sydney engineering and information technologies students will mentor the high school students virtually, providing online resources and ongoing training throughout the year.
Over nine months, mentors will guide the teams through the process of learning the computer code, maths and physics behind the motion of the robots, while also helping students develop other valuable skills including teamwork and effective communication.