Mars Rover Challenge sees schools battle it out to code the best replica planetary explorer
A school from the New South Wales Hunter region has won the inaugural Mars Rover Challenge, a competition that pits students against each other on the coding field.
Held at the University of Newcastle, schools from across the country took part.
It was run by Obelisk Systems, which in turn runs the StarLAB program which uses miniature models inspired by the Curiosity Rover to teach school-aged children how to code and give them an understanding of artificial intelligence.
The students tested their computer coding skills in navigating a miniature rover across an imaginary Martian terrain.
Director Lewis Quill said today’s competition is the first time the 60 schools who had signed up to the program compared their skills.
“There’s different types of terrain that they have to navigate through. There are hills and corners and there’s also special scientific data-gathering areas,” he said.
“They have to approach it with the rover and take measurements, just like you would in the real world.”
The winning school, a year 8 team from West Wallsend High School, has worked with the StarLAB program since earlier this year.
“They were up against some really strong competition and I think we were the youngest,” teacher Karen Walsh said.
“I think most of the other students were year 10, but these guys love their coding.
“They’ve worked independently all semester on this. I’ve just guided them and organised them to get them here.
“They kept it simple and it was a good strategy in the end.”
Not just about winning
Another school taking part was Maitland Grossman High School.
Teacher Karen Blatchford was leading the group of eight year 10 students and said they have been really engaged.
“They would just go to the library together at lunchtimes and work on this program,” she said.
The team also had a plan heading into the challenge.
“They organised themselves really well. They paired up — one testing for humidity, one testing for the light sensors — so each of them was testing for a different thing, making up their own little bit of code, and now they’re putting all that code together ready for the challenge,” she said.
And they believe it is not all about winning.
“I suggested that to them and they said ‘no miss, as long as we’re having fun’,” she said.
Looking to the future
The program is also giving students the skills they need for future careers.
“Apart from the technology side, and they’re all really keen on the coding, when I see that group of boys working together like they are it’s amazing,” Ms Blatchford said.
“They’re just accepting of each other, they’re listening to each other, they’re collaborating.
“It’s all problem solving, helping each other, all those skills industries are actually looking for in kids.”
And the Mars Rover Competition has a bright future too with plans for a second event next year.