“Every man is fighting his own battle…” – Celebrating men’s health month, Movember, at the International School of Lausanne
Back in 2021, with an intensifying interest in robotics but no existing extra-curricular opportunities to pursue this, Year 11 International School of Lausanne students Saisha and Anjali were inspired instead to launch their own club. With support from Mr Turland (Teacher of Computer Science and Digital Design), the girls created a structure and vision for the club, recruited an equally passionate team of fellow students, and began working towards their first robotics tournament.
Fast forward to February of 2023, and the Five Rings Robotics club (the moniker a playful nod to Lausanne’s seat as the hometown of the Olympics) have successfully participated in two VEX tournaments, earning an assortment of accolades, including the VEX robotics Judges Award at the recent VEX tournament in Basel.
Keep reading for an insight into the world of robotics and to discover the story of Five Rings Robotics in the words of the co-founders themselves…
In July of 2015, the MIT Technology Review published an article with a title that sounded like something James Cameron in his Terminator days might have been pleased with – The Exoskeletons are Coming.
Playing on the blockbuster overtones of the title, the author, Will Knight, goes on to open with a nod to a more recent robotic box office draw:
“Even if you lack the resources of Tony Stark, you can obtain a high-tech suit to enhance your natural abilities, or at least help you avoid a backache. Mechanical outfits, known as exoskeletons, are gaining a foothold in the real world.”
So forget any thoughts of time-travelling cyborg assassins with a fetching line in Gargoyles ANSI sunglasses and some killer – in every sense of the word – one liners: the real world robots of the twenty first century are here to help us. Just ask Dr. Sabine Hauert, the President and Co Founder of Robohub.org, and Assistant Professor in Robotics at the University of Bristol:
“Robots are not going to replace humans; they are going to make their jobs much more humane. Difficult, demeaning, demanding, dangerous, dull – these are the jobs robots will be taking.”
There is an active necessity for scientists to take greater control of the conversations happening around robotics – as with AI and machine learning, apocalyptic clickbait gets more hits than nuanced, balanced, and factual features on the rise of robotics, the increasing role it plays in our lives, and its potential to improve our future.
As part of the Royal Society’s Working Group on Machine Learning, Dr. Hauert is one of the scientists tasked with improving the communications around the field of robotics. At a 2017 InterConnect talk, the key points of which are snappily summarised in the IBM article, Dehyping Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), Dr. Hauert led a fascinating discussion on the ways in which advanced robotics technology have opened the doors to exciting scientific exploration and discovery in a myriad of fields.
For example, within the medical world, while existing exoskeletons may not have quite the pizazz of Tony Stark’s Iron Man armour, their development is allowing an increasing number of users to transcend some of the life-changing effects of spinal injuries, spinal illnesses, or debilitating diseases such as MS.
The exoskeleton created by New Zealand based company Rex Bionics, whose website tagline is Reimagining Rehabilitation, provides the support and mobility for its users to stand and walk, with wonderful physiological and psychological gains.
Sophie Morgan, the award-winning British disability advocate and TV presenter, who was paralysed in a car crash when she was eighteen, has described the Rex Bionics exoskeleton as “magical”:
“(There are) physiological benefits: sleeping better, reduced incontinence, less body spasms…; and (there are) also the psychological benefits, which really shouldn’t be underestimated – just being able to cook in my kitchen standing up, to do the washing standing up, reach higher cupboards…practical things like that.
“But then (there are) also really special things, like being able to hug someone properly standing up again, which is absolutely indescribable. And being able to talk to people eye-to-eye, and to not constantly be straining to hear – you just feel like you’re part of the crowd again. You don’t feel like you’re that far from people, whereas a chair can make you feel that way.”
Exoskeleton technology is just one example of an important innovation in the field of robotics; there are countless others to learn about.
And so, it is easy to understand why International School of Lausanne students Saisha (Year 12) and Anjali (Year 12) were inspired by their own interest in robotics to launch ISL’s first ever robotics team.
Saisha’s involvement with robotics began in the fifth grade, when she first began programming and designing autonomous robots, going on to enter her first robotics competition in Singapore in a VEX IQ Team in the eighth grade.
Her passion with the technology continued through high school, during which time she was on a MATE ROV Underwater Robotics Competition team. As her knowledge of the domain broadened, Saisha, together with Anjali, co-founded the International School of Lausanne’s Five Rings Robotics – the name an allusion to Lausanne being the home of the International Olympic Committee, with its iconic five ring logo.
Anjali’s interest in programming and computer science was sparked by her studies in International Baccalaureate MYP design and MYP digital design from Years 7 – 11. Following the experience of doing some basic robotics in her Year 8 design class, Anjali was inspired to build more depth into her knowledge and participated in an EPFL robotics and AI camp, an exposure to engineering that, along with her school studies of the STEM subjects, formed the foundation for her decision to work with Saisha in establishing the ISL robotics team:
“The curriculum subjects at the International School of Lausanne that help develop the skills and knowledge relevant to robotics are physics, MYP design, and computer science. These help build the basic technical knowledge required (mechanics and the physics of circular/linear motion, basic movement algorithms, and CAD knowledge, to name a few) and we feel that a combination of these in a robotics team are most effective.” (Saisha and Anjali, Year 12)
The International School of Lausanne Five Rings Robotics club was formed in early September 2022, about a year after Saisha had first talked to Mr Turland (Teacher of Computer Science and Digital Design) about the possibility of starting a robotics program. The girls then spent the first semester promoting the club to their fellow ISL students, outlining their vision for its structure and goals.
Now well established, the six club members – together with co-founders Saisha and Anjali (Year 12), the talented and dedicated team also consists of Eladio (Year 12), Juliana (Year 11), Michal (Year 11) and Maako (Year 11) – have bi-weekly meetings, increasing the length or frequency of these when extra time is needed to prepare for competitions, and well supported in materials and space by the ISL design department:
“We use a variety of different tools, mainly the VEX materials kit, the arena (located in the North Building bridge), and machinery in the ISL design classrooms.” (Saisha and Anjali, Year 12)
Such was the new team’s skill and commitment that, only a couple of months into its creation, the Five Rings Robotics club took part in their first VEX tournament, giving them their first experience of competing against other robots and consolidating their understanding of the scoring system.
And so, to discover more about the world of VEX robotics in the words of the Five Rings Robotics founders, Saisha and Anjali, themselves, just keep reading…
On how a robotics tournament is structured…
This year’s VEX robotics competition’s main point is to play matches in two alliances of two teams, where one alliance is blue, and the other is red. When the driver-control period starts, an alliance can push the VEX discs into their low goal, which is worth 1 point per disc.
In the arena, there are also 4 rollers, which are half blue and half red. A robot can spin the roller so that its alliance’s colour is facing up, and at the end of the match an alliance can get an additional 10 points for each roller that is their colour. The most difficult way to score points is by shooting the VEX discs into the high goals, which is worth 5 points for each disc shot successfully.
In the last 10 seconds of the match, the robot can expand, and for each tile the robot touches, the alliance can gain an extra 3 points. During the 1-minute autonomous period at the start, an alliance can score points by doing any of the above as well.
On the experience of attending the team’s first tournament in Autumn 2022…
We feel that attending the first tournament was really helpful in understanding how the game and scoring worked, and got us more used to working and competing in a tournament setting.
There were many instances where we had to work and improve our robot within a very short period of time, and had to make a lot of last minute changes, and this first experience helped us get more comfortable for the actual tournament.
This was also an opportunity to learn from different teams to broaden our understanding of different robot mechanisms and code algorithms, which helped us in our own design process for the final qualifier. Moreover, we met lots of like-minded people who had a similar passion for robotics and made many new friends!
On the key takeaways from the Autumn tournament ahead of the Basel tournament in February 2023…
At that stage, no teams (including ours) had a working collecting or shooting mechanism, but we were able to learn about the other mechanisms. For example, we realised that we needed a more reliable pushing system, we needed a functional string expansion, and most importantly, needed to make the robot heavier but smaller so that it was stronger in match battles.
In addition to all these technical learnings, we realised that as a team, we had to work together throughout the tournament, and we needed to be prepared for any unforeseen issues.
On the most memorable moments of the Basel VEX tournament…
February’s qualifier tournament was much more fun, while being way more stressful than the previous one!
Initially, our robot didn’t even pass inspection due to some subjective size constraints, so we had to take down our shooter and intake mechanism before the tournament even started.
However, we were able to do quite well with a robot that was only partially functional – we earned 2nd place in the qualifying leaderboard, 4th place in individual robot skills, and won the VEX Robotics Judges Award.
On the challenges faced preparing their robot for the February tournament…
The biggest issue when preparing for the February tournament was the gear ratios not working for the intake or the shooting mechanism. The concept was there, but due to motor capability and space limitations, we couldn’t get it to work.
Another challenge we faced was meeting the size restrictions for the robot because all the parts in the kit were big, and we did not find time to cut them all.
These challenges were difficult to work through; however, we worked as a team to try and overcome them.
On the highlights so far of being a part of Five Rings Robotics…
Over the course of the past six months, our team has grown a lot closer together – we have inside jokes together, and have shared some really funny moments during tournaments and work sessions.
One of the most important highlights was during tournaments, when we were pleasantly surprised by our positive outcomes on both occasions. Nonetheless, we put in maximum effort for each game and the passion that each member showed towards the competition was amazing.
On their future plans in the field of robotics…
Both of us would like to pursue a degree related to robotics: Anjali wants to major in Computer Science at university, and Saisha would like to further her education at university in Robotics or Electrical Engineering.
Later, for our careers, we would naturally be interested in something similar, while still keeping our options open in the STEM field. The rest of the team also has future plans related to computer science and engineering technology, and will pursue this in the Diploma Programme as well.
On why robotics matters…
In today’s world of constantly evolving technology, it is crucial to develop both technical and soft skills.
Robotics is a great way to get started in high school; and, as you go out into future careers (especially those related to STEM), a combination of these skills (anywhere from programming autonomous algorithms to presenting yourself to an interviewer) would be beneficial.
On why other International School of Lausanne students should consider joining the Five Rings Robotics team…
We’d love to have new members on the team! It’s a great learning experience to try something new, while also putting your existing skills into practice (problem-solving, communication, teamwork, etc).
The tournaments are very fun, and the atmosphere is really energetic (though it is really competitive!). The season is a lot of hard work but it’s really satisfying when everything comes together for the final tournament.
Ultimately, the club is open to anyone, and no major experience is required – just interest and commitment!
If you are interested in the opportunity of becoming part of the International School of Lausanne’s Five Rings Robotics teams, then speak to Mr Turland, or any of the team!