This weekend, school students from around the country will be competing in the 2016 FIRST Robotics Asia Pacific final — by besieging a castle with homemade semi–autonomous robots. It's being billed as self–driving cars meets Game of Thrones and is clearly the coolest thing to happen in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Which is kind of the point.
Robot image from Shutterstock
It's no secret that there's a STEM skills shortage in Australia, with universities struggling to attract enough students to meet industry demand. In a bid to get more kids interested in these subjects, Google has been funding the non-profit organisation FIRST Robotics Australia to bring its hands-on program to as many Australian school students as possible.
Tomorrow (18 March), this will culminate in the FIRST Robotics Asia Pacific final — where teams of students aged 14 to 18 will compete in a two-day robotics challenge. This year, the goal is to successfully besiege a miniature castle by breaching the walls using DIY robots. We can't imagine a single kid on the planet who isn't intrigued by this idea, which means the program is probably doing its job.
The shortage in STEM skills in Australia is kind of a big deal. According to professional services firm PwC, shifting just one per cent of the workforce into STEM roles would add a whopping $57.4 billion to the Australia’s GDP over the next 20 years. Presumably, this boost to the economy would not be achieved via the production of robotic siege engines, but you've got to get 'em keen somehow.
The 2016 FIRST Robotics Asia Pacific final will be held at Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre from 18 March at 8am. Entry is free. For more information, head to the FIRST Australia website.