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Is Robotics a Sport?

Robotics is a sport for the mind.

On retrospect, I recalled I decided to joined the Robotics Club in my Secondary School as my Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) out of interest. Back then, it was labelled as a laidback or ‘slack’ club. Comparatively, we were perpetually seen hiding behind closed doors of the air conditioned computer lab while other CCAs trained under the unforgiving heat. I grew up with negative opinions that generally robotics club members are weaker and merely seeking an easy way out for our CCA choice. I do not blame them for that as without adequate exposure, how will they know what we truly do?

What is unknown to many till today even, is that if I may opine, Robotics is a sport too.

Robotics is a sport for the mind.

 1. Robotics as a Team Sport

Firstly, it is a team sport. We work in teams of 4 to 5 to join competitions, varying from mission-based ones such as the upcoming National Junior Robotics Competition (NJRC) in September holidays, to knock out tournaments such as sprint or sumo bot to events such as robot soccer or even a dancing robot! In the team, we put on the hats of engineers and further specialise our roles into programmers and builders. We plan, research, strategize and motivate each other to push through.

Taken years back in 2008 together with a team of students from Princess Elizabeth Primary School

2. This sport requires hard work.

Robotics require a lot of trainings and experience. We train hard weekly, constantly upgrading ourselves especially when new robotics platform roll out. However, the beauty of robotics is that the concept doesn’t change. Ask any student who has done robotics before, and I’m confident that they can teach you the algorithm for a line tracing program. Similarly, regardless of using LEGO or VEX parts to build a robot, the importance of having a low centre of gravity for stability doesn’t change  When a competition is nearing, we spent much more man hours in the cold room till dusk. This scene has not changed. I have seen students, from both Primary and Secondary schools, staying back on extra days after classes to work on their robots. To the parents of these young aspiring engineers, I thank you for your understanding and support.

Good judgement comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgement.

How did Thomas Edison feel when he met countless of failures when inventing the light bulb? I think somewhere along our journey doing robotics, we felt a pinch of it before, experiencing failure again and again. Yet, the sportsmanship in us kept us going strong. Sometimes, one may argue that we are plain stubborn, trying our program again and again to find the fault. I argue that we are merely adopting the Engineering Design Process. Part of the process requires us to improve prototype and create again. It is heartening to see our students persevering against all odds to have their efforts paid off.

An intense moment for our private C4RL team (centre) before winning champion for line tracing open category in Asia Pacific Youth Robotics Competition (Summer) 2014

3. Anyone can join this sport.

Last but not least, robotics is a sport which anyone can join and do well if they have the aptitude. Age, gender and physical fitness are not limiting factors. Hence, please don’t be discouraged by the negative comments made around us as they may not have the adequate exposure to what robotics really is. Similarly, let’s not judge other sports or CCAs as we do not know what they have gone through in their trainings and competitions.

As our students gear up their trainings for the upcoming NJRC in this peak period, I wish them the very best in their learning journey. For educators and parents, let us continue to give our utmost support to these young aspiring engineers. For students, just as any other sports, in the midst of pursuing excellence, don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the process together with your buddies. Till now, I can still remember how my robot volunteered itself for a ‘drop test’ off the playfield when I wasn’t looking! Good luck!