Three teams from the same school in northern Israel took the top spots in a national competition in which teams build “firefighter robots.” The winning team from Misgav High School will now go on to compete against over 100 teams from around the world for cash prizes at the Trinity College Fire-Fighting and RoboWaiter Contest, to be held next month at the college in Hartford, Connecticut.
Forty teams from around the country competed in the firefighter robot contest. Robots, of course, have long been touted as a solution to many difficult and dangerous tasks that we would prefer to keep humans away from, if possible — like fighting fires in closed, tight quarters where it is almost impossible to ensure firefighters’ safety. In addition, fires spread quickly in small spaces, like apartments, and often by the time firefighters get to the blaze, there’s little left to salvage.
The Trinity contest — in Israel, the competition is called “Roboner” — marshals the engineering and technical skills of 11th- and 12th-graders, asking them to come up with better designs for an automatic system that can detect fires and bring them under control quickly. Contest rules require that the robots automatically respond to a sound, like a smoke alarm, and navigate through a model apartment looking for the flame (in this case a candle) that set the alarm off. The robot then has to be able to douse the flame, and return to their point of origin.
The three top teams all hailed from the same school, Misgav High. The winning robot, called “Doctor,” was an autonomous robot that automatically “awakened” itself when it heard the alarm, Misgav principal Amir Michael said (although the rules allow various methods for movement, all of Misgav’s teams used wheels, he said). Although the contest is open to all 11th- and 12th-graders, all the teams have gone through at least three years of electronics in their schools.
Naturally, the people in charge of the programs that trained these kids were full of kudos for them, and credited the teams’ successes to sound educational policy. “We have a very high level of technical education at Misgav, with supportive parents and good teachers. It’s a winning combination,” said Michael. Misgav is partially funded by World ORT, the international educational organization that has set up hundreds of “smart classrooms” for schools in the Galilee and Negev, and Michael said that he appreciated the assistance the organization had provided to the school.