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Kiwi coding kids crowdfund to fly to Legoland for international robotics champs

JOHN COWPLAND/STUFF

The New Zealand Blackbots are hoping to compete in an international Lego robotics open at Legoland in California this year.

A group of budding robotics inventors who came up with an idea for a virtual reality film to help astronauts connect with family while they’re away in space are hoping to show off their creation on a global stage.

The New Zealand Blackbots team, 10 and 11-year-old school kids from Hawke’s Bay, took out the national robotics competition in December.

Now, the team of six 10 and 11-year-olds – some of whom have never been on a plane – are preparing for the First Lego League international open, considered the world championships of Lego robotics, to be held at Legoland, in California, in May.

The team will compete in two parts of the competition – one is based around Lego robotics, where a pre-programmed and coded robot has to manoeuvre through a themed table of interactive Lego sets to complete as many challenges, and score as many points, as possible in two-and-a-half minutes.

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Pereka Hapuku-Karaitiana, 11, Jimmy August, 11, Korey Anderson, 10, Arie Te Whiu, 10, Norma-Jean Richards, 10, and James Maxwell, 10, make up the Lego robotics team the NZ Blackbots.
JOHN COWPLAND/STUFF

Pereka Hapuku-Karaitiana, 11, Jimmy August, 11, Korey Anderson, 10, Arie Te Whiu, 10, Norma-Jean Richards, 10, and James Maxwell, 10, make up the Lego robotics team the NZ Blackbots.

The second half is a science project, where they come up with a problem and solution relating to this year’s space theme.

The Blackbots have devised a 360 virtual reality film for astronauts who are away from home for long periods without any communication with loved ones.

Lucknow School principal and coach Brendon White said the competition encouraged different perspectives and original thinking.

The robot which the team will use is only permitted to be touched within a small white quarter-circle at the edge of the table.
JOHN COWPLAND/STUFF

The robot which the team will use is only permitted to be touched within a small white quarter-circle at the edge of the table.

Preparation meet-ups are intensive and involve coding, programming and testing.

Melanie August’s son Jimmy, 11, is part of the team and she describes the competition as David and Goliath-esque.

About 80 other international teams compete from schools with dedicated, fully-funded robotics programmes and team members aged up to 15.

“The odds are stacked against them … but this is not about a podium finish,” August said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and these children are dedicated. They are putting in the work ahead of time to ensure they do the best they can … We are all very proud.”

Despite needing to raise $40,000, White is confident that with the help of one or two big sponsors the dream will become reality.

Principal of Lucknow School and team coach Brendon White helps the team - who have named hoodies - out.
JOHN COWPLAND/STUFF

Principal of Lucknow School and team coach Brendon White helps the team – who have named hoodies – out.

The teammates have turned to crowdfunding to help realise their dream of taking part as the date inches closer, and nerves begin to set in.

Some of the team have been doing robotics and coding for years - and their oldest member is just 11.
JOHN COWPLAND/STUFF

Some of the team have been doing robotics and coding for years – and their oldest member is just 11.

They’ve already received support from local businesses that have donated products for raffles and auctions. And Wellington-based lego group Well-LUG will hold a pay-by-entry exhibition with proceeds going towards the trip.

Just two out of the six kids have been out of the country before, White said.

“And some of them have never flown on a plane anywhere. It’s massive.”

Sunday Star Times

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