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NZ Robotics champions devastated by cancellation of world tournament

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Young New Zealanders who qualified to represent the country are devastated after the cancellation of the ‘Olympics’ of robotics due to be held in the USA this April, as well as postponement of Kiwibots events.

With the ever-changing developments of COVID-19 across the globe, the VEX World Robotics Championships recently announced its cancellation for 2020, affecting thousands of students globally.

Over 40 students from Auckland, Tauranga, Palmerston North, Feilding, and Christchurch had all managed to qualify for prestigious places to attend the World Championships to compete in the Elementary, Middle and High School level competitions.

Each year VEX releases a new robotics design challenge - students from around the world begin designing, building and coding their own robot to tackle the challenge and achieve the highest score in the game.

Kiwibots, the New Zealand promoter and producer of VEX competitions, hosts National level competitions where teams compete for a place at the World Championships. Over 1,000 students take part throughout the season, ranging from older primary through to university.

"As the future of technology continues to evolve, it’s more important than ever to make sure we can provide the resources and tools to help young New Zealanders innovate and have hands-on experience as early as possible. The earlier we can train these engineering skills and expose Kiwis to robotics in the mainstream, the better prepared our future generations are for technological advancement and be leaders," says Janet Van, the new National Manager of Kiwibots.

"Our teams who qualify for the Worlds are always in for a once-in-a-lifetime experience - these really are the Olympics of robotics, and with New Zealand being nine times World Champions we really have a good shot at keeping up our records in years to come. It’s a shame we won’t be able to do this in 2020."

After spending nearly a year building and designing their robots, qualifying teams have worked hard fundraising and saving to get them over to Louisville, Kentucky, USA, to compete at the World Championships. Despite the devastating news about the event’s cancellation, students are still showing grace and positivity.

"I am glad to be presented with the opportunity (to go to Worlds), but even though we don't get to go, I still achieved something great", says Yr 10 student Heather, winner of the Girl Powered Online Challenge. Heather’s peer, Joash says, "I saw it coming, but it still made me frustrated after all the hard work was lost.".

With the recent announcement of cancellation, beyond the emotional disappointment, the teams are now facing a new set of difficulties as they work through the financial issues of non-refundable deposits, cancellation fees, and more.

Stephan van Haren, teacher in charge of digital technologies and robotics at St. Peters College Palmerston North, says:

"From preparing for the trip since December (IQ Nationals), sorting out accommodation and interesting places to visit, to weeks of ‘being in limbo’, it has now become a wait and hope how much of our payments we can recover and pass on to the parents."

The possibility of hosting events such as KiwiChallenge (a NZ designed robotics tournament) and new season events are all on hold as the Ministry of Health guidelines continue to update with further restrictions for safety at this time.

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