Robots ready to rumble as Australia hosts mass robot competition

Budding scientists from home and abroad have arrived in Sydney for Australia's biggest robot competition.

Over 1000 students from across the globe have descended on Sydney to take part in the FIRST Robotics Competition - the biggest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
FIRST, which means "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology", aims to get children interested in these subjects by having them build robots that go head to head through an extensive obstacle course.
"We're going to see robots throwing boulders, capturing castles, going over moats," explains FIRST Australia Regional Director Luan Heimlich. 
"We're also seeing kids who are meeting other students from around the world. They're lifelong friendships that are going to change the world also."

Getting kids excited about science

Over several weeks more than 40 teams from six countries worked tirelessly on their creations, which are being put through their paces this weekend at the Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre.
For years FIRST has been using robotics to give students a glimpse of the careers they can pursue through STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering, and maths.
"We as a nation need to be building our capabilities in STEM, because that's going to effect our productivity in the long term," said Professor Barbara Messerle, the Executive Dean of Science and Engineering at Macquarie University. 
"Not only is it part of our everyday lives, and it's fascinating and exciting, it's also where we're heading, and we need to have more and more people involved."
According to Professor Messerle, Australia is experiencing a grave shortage in STEM skills as a result of primary and high school students perceiving them as "quite dry". Another challenge has been getting girls interested in what have become mostly male-dominated fields.
"The number of women in IT and engineering are quite low," she said. "In the workforce, and even studying or at high school, it makes a big difference to have a broad representation, to make the workplace a better place and to improve innovation and participation."

'Girls can do anything'

Many of the groups at the tournament have been challenging the trend. 
Kate Blasco from Blacktown Girls High School in Sydney said many of her fellow students show a great interest in STEM subjects.
"No matter what class they're in or their ability, they are actually interested in it," she said. "I think the stigma is "it's just for boys". But I think girls can do anything."
Ivanhoe Central School in rural New South Wales has also challenged the stereotype with several Indigenous girls helping build their robot.
"I used to hate maths and science, but now I like it," said student Tamika Quayle. "Building it with my friends, putting the wheels on, that was fun."
Source: SBS