Team South Africa departed for Mexico City on 12 August to participate in the World Robotic Olympics which was held from 15-18 August at the Ciudad De Mexico 22 000 seater indoor Arena. First Global is an initiative which focusses on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and currently has more than 65 000 robotics students around the world who compete in national leagues aimed at solving the worlds grand challenges.
The South African team (known as the Spring Bots), is sponsored by CG Holdings and their operating companies, Prommac and New Age Engineering. The team was put together in April and started prepping for the tournament in May with assistance from Vodacom who allocated some training space at their Innovation Centre in Midrand.
The team made up of four pupils from various schools, was managed by Roxanne Reddy and coached by Wernich Van Staden. “Both Roxanne and Wernich have been superstars during this process. They have literally dedicated their lives to these kids over the past few months and I want to thank them for their efforts.” Jason English said.
An incredible opening ceremony attended by the President and various ministries of Mexico, Rick Perry the US Secretary of Energy, sporting Olympians and other celebrities including the Black Eyed Peas, set the way for an exciting tournament which was attended by more than 180 countries and more than 10000 people.
Each country was randomly paired with 2 alliance countries who made up either a red or blue team. The red and blue alliances had to compete in 8 qualifying rounds against 24 Countries to determine their overall ranking for the tournament. The theme for this year was energy impact, and thus the format was such that points were scored for energy efficient solutions on the playing field. Points were scored for activating the wind turbine, loading 5 solar panels, filling up the combustion chamber with fuel cells, and then filling up the reactor. The robots were used to load and activate electricity over 2min 30sec heats and team South Africa had a robot which was very effective at Solar Panel Installations which scored highest on the score sheet.
Day 1 – Thursday 16th
The Springbots woke to a message from Faf de Klerk, wishing the team well on behalf of the South African Rugby Team (The Springboks) and this was a catalyst for the team who dominated their heats beating Portugal, Belarus, Indonesia, Netherlands, New Zealand and South America to finish 3rd in the competition on Day 1.
Day 2 – Friday 17th
As day 2 dawned, the team received further messages of support from communities, other teams and Ian Schwartz from SA Rugby. Again, the team dominated initially winning all their matches in which they beat the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands, Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire, El Salvador, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Iran, Hong Kong, Timbiti, Palestine, Lebanon, and Australia, Mexico, Lithuania and Tanzania
The team had initially beaten the host city Mexico in a hotly contested match, but the decision was later swung into Mexico’s favour after they posed an objection resulting in a loss by a mere 20 points.
In their second to last game of the qualification rounds, the Springbots, who had an alliance with Jamaica and Sri Lanka did the unthinkable and broke the world record for the most points ever scored on the energy impact field against Venezuela who was ranked number 2 in the world and held the previous world record. This record was however lost on day 3 when Romania, who was allianced with Singapore and Germany beat the record in the semifinals.
The Springbots finished the qualification rounds ranked 6th in the world and dedicated their record to Nelson Mandela in what would have been his 100th birthday year.
Day 3 – Saturday 18th
The Springbots were paired with South Korea (ranked 36) and Croatia (ranked 67th) in the Octofinals where they narrowly beat Poland, Ukraine and Timor-Leste to gain a place in the quarterfinals, where they had to face off against the Maldives, Iceland and Columbia. Sadly the team had a malfunction and because they had given team Georgia their spare robot, ended up competing 2 against 3 robots which resulted in a narrow loss and ultimately the knocking out of Team South Africa together with the host nation Team Mexico.
What started out as an initiative to finish in the top 70 countries, ended in an inspiring story which caught the eye of Walt Disney who was a main sponsor of the tournament. The South African team journey was tough, from initially having no sponsors, to kids not having passports and challenges with visas, to find a space big enough to practice, to the logistics of getting the team together to practice, to having no spare robot; Walt Disney did the unexpected and awarded the Springbots a Gold Medal for their inspiring story and creativity in building an innovative robot which ultimately led to the team being placed 6th in the world amongst some of the global great robotic countries.
“I will forever remember this day – Watching a group of youth walking out onto the global stage to receive a gold medal from the Walt Disney team brought me to tears. There we were walking out to receive gold competing against countries who have national, provisional and inter-school robotic leagues. It was an emotional experience and all of these kids will no doubt remember it forever” said Jason English. The tournament was ultimately won by the alliance of Singapore, Columbia and Germany,
“When our group of companies embarked on this journey with the Springbots, we never imagined the result. Although as an organisation we focus on innovative solutions and disruptive technologies, I was expecting to come to Mexico to inspire team South Africa, to just do their best and have fun. What happened was the reverse in that every team from around the world inspired me, they inspired their communities, they showed signs of hope for a better world. These were kids who did not allow politics, race or problems to define who they were. These were kids with a purpose – a purpose to break down boundaries and work together to solve global challenges – a group of kids who understand that the challenges they face tomorrow are their collective problems – these were a group of kids who want to create a better world, and no tears or words would ever be able to express how happy we are to be a part of the Springbot journey.” Jason English(CEO CG Holdings)