Sunday, April 25, 2010

Serious robotics

Our department have been supporting the Hong Kong regional of the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) for several years. The Hong Kong regional is a competition in which ~60 teams from primary and secondary schools build robots using the LEGO Mindstorm kit to tackle a set of tasks. The winning team would go to the USA to compete in the international competition representing Hong Kong.

This year, the FLL final happened to be at Atlanta during the period that we were attending CHI, the Computer Human Interface Conference. So we took a day off from CHI and went over to the Georgia Dome to see FLL.

It happens that FLL is just a part of the FIRST Robotics Competition - and the smallest part at that. FIRST is actually three competition: FRC, FTC and FLL. For the FRC, students from grade 9 to 12 build robots weighting 120 pounds to compete in soccer games. For the FTC, students in the same age group build smaller robots that can scoop up and shoot smaller balls. And then there is the FLL.

The main competitions take up a large part of the Georgia Dome that can seat 75,000 people. FLL takes up less than one-sixth of the space. The staging and practice areas take up another humongous hall. There must be several thousand students, teachers, parents there. And that’s just for the national championships. I cannot imagine the total number of students involved in the regionals. FIRST is an international championship but the majority of the participants are Americans. Such is the interest in the USA in robotics.

In the preparation area, we passed by an apparently home-made Segway.

All of which made up a fair indicator of the degree of interest in robotics - and science and technology in general - in the USA. That’s one of the main reasons that the USA continues to lead the world in creating innovative technologies, products, companies, and wealth.

In contrast, what are we doing in Hong Kong? Our government and business leaders have already given up on science, technology and engineering. Instead, we are encouraged to focus on services. What services? What kind of services can we provide if we do not have products to sell? Can we survive, let alone proper, by trucking other people’s products, by selling land to each other, by serving each other fast food? Give me a break.


The Cat said...

You need to mention the self-made Segway... that was IMPRESSIVE.

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