This is a guest post by Will Pomerantz, Senior Director of Space Prizes at the X Prize Foundation.
Over the weekend, I provided a quick introduction for myself, the X Prize Foundation, and the MoonBots educational competition as part of a profile of one of the finalist teams, the Shadowed Craters. In brief, MoonBots challenges teams of students (aged 9-18, with adult ‘team captains’) to essentially mimic the requirements of the $30,000,000 Google Lunar X PRIZE using free CAD software like Lego Digital Designer and Google SketchUp and, eventually, with Lego Mindstorms kits. Over two hundred teams from around the world entered the competition; only twenty finalists remain.
Today, let’s meet team WEBstormers. One of only two teams from outside of the USA to advance to the finals, the WEBstormers hail from Cape Town, South Africa — a city they call “the most beautiful and exciting city in the world”. The team has three student members: brothers Luke (age 14) and Nicolas (“Nicki,” age 12), along with Luke’s “best mate,” Christopher (age 13). All three attend the German International School in Cape Town.
Luke — both the oldest and the most experienced with the Lego Mindstorms robotics kits — assembled the team, a relatively simple task given his teammates’ love of Lego. Nicki had never used Mindstorms before, or competed in any Lego-based competition, while Christopher had only recently begun to dabble in both.
Here, in a part of the team’s submission for the first part of the competition, Luke, Nicki, and Christopher tell us why they think lunar exploration is important:
Just as the team found out that they’d made the cut and would be advancing to the final round of the competition, they took a little trip that offered them perhaps a unique advantage over their fellow teams: “in the coming weeks we will be in Mozambique, in the middle of the bush. We need a 4 by 4 drive to get there: an excellent chance to see what lunar exploration is like.” At minimum, this presumably made their fellow competitors quite jealous.
Once back at home, though, the team started running straight into some difficult technical challenges. “The most difficult part so far was to get the robot reliably over the crater ridge,” they report. They eventually had to take a new direction, leaving their original robot design behind after finding that, when put into practice, it didn’t live up to expectations. The team is learning the value of real world experimentation and iteration — and also making sure to mix in some fun with their work:
They are also doing a great job of keeping a detailed history of the robot and the challenges they’ve faced online — which makes great reading.
It’s clear from watching the videos that this team is learning a lot, and having a good time. They’d make any good GeekDad or GeekMom worth his or her salt proud. And, as they say, “It’s fun, we learn how to cooperate in a team and there are prizes! We are having a ball.”
We asked the team if they think they have what it takes to win the whole thing. Their response? “Well, if we don’t think that we will win, then we probably have null chance of winning. Of course we think we have a chance to win; and if not, we think we can make into the top three!”
So kudos to WEBstormers for their work so far — I encourage you to click through their blogs posts and their other videos, and to leave them questions and comments.
As always, any discussion here does not imply anything whatsoever when it comes to selection of the overall winners of the competition. May the best team win!