Brussels, 15 Jun 2006
Eurobot, an EU funded robotics competition, is showing its ability to not only attract young scientists, but to also communicate science to the general public.
Held annually since 1998, Eurobot pits students from universities, engineering schools and school science clubs against each other. Every year, competitors receive a new brief to design an intelligent robot to carry out a specific task autonomously - human intervention is definitely not allowed. The contest, which grew out of a national robotic competition in France in 1994, now boasts the participation of a total of 350 teams and 4,000 students, from 26 countries across Europe and other parts of the World. In 2003, the contest received funding amounting to EUR 147,000 under the 'Science and Society' section of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). In 2006, the project consortium introduced Eurobot Junior, targeting 8-18 year-olds.
'The contest is principally aimed at providing a meeting place for young people interested in robots and science to exchange knowledge and experience,' Véronique Raoul, the project coordinator, told CORDIS News.
For a period of nine months, students work in teams to design and develop their robot. 'They tend to be very passionate about their project, to the point that they spend all their free time, evenings and weekends, on its development, and place everything on hold, even boyfriends and girlfriends,' explained Ms Raoul.
Mirjana Farajo, 24, a micro-electronics student from Serbia Montenegro, has been participating in Eurobot for three years and says that the experience is more valuable than learning from books. 'My university studies last five years and, in that time, we have only one practical course,' she said. 'Through Eurobot, you can apply everything you have learnt - the theoretical knowledge.'
Kristijan Kozar, 23, an electrical engineering student from Germany and another of the contestants, agrees: 'I think it helps you gain more organisational and technical skills than at school,' he said. 'It allows you to go through all stages of a project, from the idea to design to the final product.'
Although a competition, Ms Raoul noted that there is a real sense of camaraderie between the competing teams. Even before the final competition takes place, students on opposing teams contact one another via an Internet forum and by e-mail in order to exchange ideas and technical advice on the design of their robots, she said
Under the rules of the contest, teachers and researchers may provide mentoring to the students, however they are strictly forbidden from participating in the teams. 'The students are the real leaders of the project,' said Ms Raoul. 'This has added value as it enables students to develop a different type of contact with their teachers, other than a classic teacher-student relationship.'
In addition to improving their knowledge about robots and technologies, the nature of contest also gets them ready for working in the professional world, as each of the teams are responsible for marketing their robot in order to obtain funding from sponsors. 'It's also the experience of meeting a deadline, having the robot ready in time for the competition,' said Ms Raoul. 'Even if a team builds the best robot, if it is not ready in time, they will have failed. Often it happens that in the first year of competition, a team miss the deadline and so they learn better time-keeping in the second year, understanding that the robot needs to be ready one month ahead of the competition for testing.' Indeed, the competition has not gone unnoticed by industry, which sends representatives to scout new talent at the event.
Public interest in the competition is also high, with the event drawing thousands of visitors each year and a television audience of millions. The winners of the contest also participate in other events, such as the recent European Research and Innovation Exhibition, which was held from 8 to 11 June in Paris, France, to draw the public's attention to the 'fun' dimension of science and technology. Ms Raoul hopes that in doing so the contest will make science and technology more attractive to young people, particularly young girls, who are underrepresented in the contest and the larger scientific arena.