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SMART Robots, Student-Made

28 Apr 2008

Temasek Secondary SMART team

During their trip to the US, the SMART team from Temasek Secondary School also visited Devry University.

Clambering over fences, moving items across the playing field and scoring goals - sounds very much like an obstacle-filled telematch, doesn’t it?

It sort of is, except that the “players” were robots competing to edge out the competition by accumulating the highest number of points. The venue was the FIRST Tech Challenge in the United States, and two of the robots hailed from Singapore, escorted by two SMART teams.

The SMART (Science and Mathematics Applications in Robotics and Technology) programme is a collaboration among three local schools - Temasek Secondary, CHIJ Toa Payoh and Millennia Institute, with the support of industry partner AutoDesk.

“We started the programme because we wanted to show our students that what they learn in class is not limited only to theory; the textbook content has real-life applications too,” says Mr Eric Tan, Head of Department, Mathematics, Temasek Secondary School. “As robotics technology makes use of both science and mathematics applications, we decided to launch SMART as an enrichment programme.”

How are mathematics and science topics used in robotics at the secondary school level? “Our robots are built from scratch. We design them and put them together using separate materials and parts like motors and gears,” explains Mr Tan. “If we want a robot that can negotiate slopes, students need to apply their knowledge of trigonometry in the calculations. They need to know about proportions and ratios, and ensure precision in their measurements.”

Temasek Secondary SMART team

An official at the FIRST Tech Challenge with SMART team members Ena Lu Yi and Chen Xinyun.

Since the SMART programme was introduced in 2006, the team has been taking part in the annual FIRST Tech Challenge. The competition is organised by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a non-profit set-up that designs activities to inspire an appreciation of science and technology among young people.

SMART team members started work for the 2007/2008 season in December 2007. They had to meet the specifications of the “Quad Quandary” challenge, where teams scored points when their robots completed the required tasks à la an obstacle course. “Students can join us only in Sec 3, so we have a lot of former members, now in Sec 4, coming back to help the new Sec 3 members,” notes Mr Tan. “The Millennia Institute students and our teachers are a great help too. We believe in being totally hands-on in the learning process.”

During the 2008 March holidays, two SMART teams comprising 10 students and two teachers from Temasek Secondary headed to Newark, USA, with two robots for the competition. One team emerged regional champion, and the contingent also came back with the THINK Award, which recognises the outstanding chronicling of the team’s progress throughout the planning, design and building stages.

“The THINK award is significant because we wanted our students to focus not only on the end point. We wanted them to enhance their knowledge and skills along the way,” says Mr Tan. “To us, the process is as important as the competition, if not more so.”

During the award ceremony, the judges said they were “particularly impressed by the details that the team had put in to document all their information and data, from the day the team was formed to the day before the competition.” Thanks to the THINK win, the SMART team was invited to participate in the FIRST Tech Challenge Grand Championship, a privilege extended only to selected winning teams. Students from Millennia Institute led the charge from 14 to 18 April 2008. Fending off the challenge from over 100 teams from around the world, the SMART team eventually emerged seventh in that competition