Robot-Building Fires Up Kids' Imagination : Expert

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New Delhi, Sep 7 (UNI) A Lego robot rolled into a test arena, went through a gate, knocked off a soda can in each corner, winning its makers a chance to compete in next month's World Robot Olympiad in Japan.

In an era of robotic surgeons, bartenders, librarians, even dogs and mules, sponsors of India Robot Olympiad 2008 concede their show on Saturday may have seemed a nascent effort.

But for nearly a thousand 10-to-16-year-olds across India, organisers say, it is the beginning of an attitude towards learning as something with a meaning, something to apply mind to, not cram up. It allows students to work the concepts they ordinarily read about in text books, said Dr Shabnam Sharma, one of the organisers of the Indian Olympiad.

''It's helping fire up young imaginations,'' remarked the event's Chief Judge, Dr Sudipto Mukherjee of the Mechanical Engineering Department of the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi.

Dr Sharma said the standard for the contest is set at the World Olympiad level for kids in participating nations, including Russia, China and Lego's motherland, Denmark. The United States runs its own First Lego League.

She said the Indian team is to be picked in two trials, one held at Amity University in Noida on Saturday, the other scheduled at Bangalore on September 28.

Between them, the two trials have drawn more than 300 teams from across the nation.

Although this is third annual Indian Olympiad, participants' list indicates the activity is confined mostly to private schools, such as Amity, Apeejay, Saupin's or Billabong.

Asked whether there was any move to involve government and other schools which make up the bulk of Indian school education, Dr Sharma said that was on the cards. ''We will try it next year.'' Listed as the Organiser of the Indian Olympiad, Sudhanshu Sharma said each participant school spends Rs 3-4 lakhs, each kit costing Rs around 20,000.

Head of a Gurgaon-based firm Techtronics (India) Limited, Sharma said participation in India is just starting to grow. China, for instance, has some 1,800 teams.

As Noida tryouts ended, ''pathetic,'' was how technical advisor Apurva Kalia dubbed the performance of senior high school students most of whose models had tumbled down themselves instead of knocking off the cans.

But the remark was intended to motivate better performance, he explained.

The world event scheduled at Yokohama, Japan from October 31 to November 2 is expected to draw contestants from more than 50 countries, said Kalia.

The winners in today's event: Bhopal-based Billabong High School's Treksha Marwah, Saumya Nair, Bhavesh Chowrase and Mokshda in the primary school category; Noida-based Amity International's Ainesh Bakshi, Raghav Kochhar, Parin Aggarwal in the junior high category; Noida-based Amity International's Kshitij Lauria, Savagya Vaish and Anchit Chandrashekhar in the senior high category; and Vasundhra-based Amity International's Harsh Nagar, Puneet Kumar and Rachit Jain in the open category.

UNI MJ BDP KN1525

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