Girls program dancing robots to perform haka

Low decile school targets RoboCup competition

A team from Hukarere Girls College, a low-decile school in Hawkes Bay, is programming robots to perform the haka. The school participated in the New Zealand finals in RoboCup Junior, a robotics programming competition for school students.

The seven girls in the team from Hukarere Girls College grabbed the third spot in the dance category for secondary schools in the national final in Auckland on Saturday, says the school’s ICT manager and teacher, Michael Peterson. The team won the regional competition in Wanganui three weeks ago – both the first prize and the audience’s choice, says Peterson.

RoboCup, an international robotics competition founded in 1993, is now in its fifth year in New Zealand. The aim of the project is to promote research and education in the artificial intelligence space.

RoboCup Junior has three categories: robotic dance, where students program their robots to perform to music; robotic rescue, where students program the robots to rescue people from life-threatening situations; and robotic soccer, where students design and program two robots to compete against an opposing pair of robots by kicking an infrared-transmitting ball into their designated goal. Hukarere Girls College, which participated in the competition for the first time, competed in the dance category.

The girls have programmed their ten robots in a marae scenario, where five robots are visitors, says Peterson. The robots march, turn in different directions and then stop in a line, he says. Some of the robots do a poi performance. They salute each other, and then perform the haka, all synchronised to music, says Peterson.

Toshiba, which is sponsoring the competition, has provided each school with ten robots and two laptops.

To Peterson, participating in the competition is a dream-come-true. Not only does the team’s success show that low-decile schools can compete with high-decile schools, it also breaks gender and ethnicity barriers, as the school is predominantly Maori, he says.

The decile rating relates to the socio-economic status of students’ families.

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