On April 20-23, team "Champions" of Robotek robotics school from Nur-Sultan will participate in the First LEGO League Challenge in Houston, Texas, U.S.A. The young engineers will present one large-scale project on freight transportation and logistics. The idea is to simplify transportation and make human life easier.
QazMonitor met the team in person and talked to Sanzhar Shalkarbekov, the director of Robotek about team training, innovations, and crowdfunding the project.
What is so special about this tournament?
“The FIRST robotics is an international tournament, a big franchise, and one of the most prestigious robotics tournaments for school children in the world. 38,000 teams from around the world participate in the competition each year. Our team is going to the most important stage of the world championship in Houston—the World Final. “Champions” won the national stage of the FIRST Lego League in Almaty in February, so they will be one of four teams to represent Kazakhstan. There will be nearly 60 countries competing in the tournament. The lead sponsors of the event are Google, and Waymo, while Lego, NASA, Rockwell Automation, Ford, FedEx, Bechtel, PWC, John Deere and other companies also provide support,” said Sanzhar Shalkarbekov.
No one knows about the robot and tournament project more than “Champions” themselves. Team member Radomir Horolskiy shared with us all the technicalities of the event:
What project will ‘Champions’ present in Houston?
“There are three parts to the competition: the robot performance tasks, the project, and robot design. Our project has two parts: city and seaport. The seaport part focuses on solving freight problems and speeding up the unloading of cargo. We have a loader, which automatically records the cargo number in the database when unloading it [the boys show us an intricate claw mechanism]. It leads to automation instead of tedious paperwork. We have a system there to track the condition of the cargo inside the containers, which will allow for better quality transportation of products. There's a light sensor to detect if the container doors are open. For the city part, we focus on infrastructure and reducing traffic congestion in our city. We created a new network of routes and roads with special features. The port part took about 2 months to build, and the city part about three months.”
As we were speaking, the team’s robot was flawlessly running 17 tasks on a special field in front of us. The young engineers Tair Tastemirov, Ali Umargaliyev and Ansar Saurbayev were testing different parameters, while Marat Kazkenov and Batyrhan Baiterekov were adjusting the cargo loader.
“One of the stages of preparation was communication with the Aktau seaport at the management level. We presented our project, as we had an element related to maritime logistics. They told us what innovations we needed to implement. We received very interesting feedback from the operational director of the seaport, and other people who were on the group call. They praised the boys and wished them luck. This is an important element of preparing for the tournament: connection with the industry,”
How is the training going?
Sanzhar Shalkarbekov: “The team is ready to fight! These children have been with us for a very long time, from 3 to 5 years, and they never miss any classes. They have participated in robotics tournaments multiple times already. Half of the children have already participated in the world finals of World Robot Olympiad in 2018 and 2019. Other kids won medals in national tournaments. They have accumulated a lot of experience both traveling and competing. They approach this event professionally, without a hint of anxiety. I think they'll perform well."
"The coaches, Olzhas Aitzhanov and Yelzhas Aitzhan, who are training the ‘Champions’ have been working with us for 5 years, so they know a lot about the nuances of the competition. They also focus on preparing the students mentally, often involving experts in sports psychology. We hold internal master classes and trainings for children to strengthen their teamwork. We certainly pay attention to physical preparations, to balance the intellectual strain and provide team members with the needed physical discharge.”
Robotek school is trying to raise awareness on the importance of STEM and robotics in Kazakhstan by conducting workshops and participating in different fairs. The company also created a crowdfunding project to sponsor the trip of “Champions” to Houston. Even though the boys will attend the tournament anyway, financial support from local companies, state bodies and common citizens could make their trip much more comfortable and make the project presentation stand out. The funds are needed for merchandise, project booth, and daily expenses of the team.
Sanzhar Shalkarbekov made an important announcement:
"On April 14 in Nur-Sultan, we are holding a fundraiser for kids hosted by Astana IT University. The proceedings will go to support our team. More than half of the seats have already been booked. Parents want to bring their children to this event not only for entertainment but for a chance to interact with our team and set a good example of what you can strive for."
"We have also created a non-profit corporate fund, Robotek Foundation. One of the objectives of the foundation is the mobilization of internal and external resources. We want to support talented children in their desire to participate and win tournaments. We invite patrons and large companies that are interested in the field of engineering to donate and support Robotek Foundation activities."