Cayman International School topped a field of seven local high schools in the 2023 FIRST Tech Challenge, a robotics competition with a renewable energy theme celebrating achievements of young people in robotics.

CIS edged John Gray High School in the final round to claim the annual Minds Inspired event, which asked teams to consider how technology and innovation can help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

“It’s rewarding to see how robotics programmes are growing in schools since we launched the FIRST Tech Challenge in the Cayman Islands five years ago,” said Glenda McTaggart, Dart’s senior manager education programmes, who coordinates Cayman’s participation in the FIRST Tech Challenge and at FIRST Global, the international finale of the robotics season which brings together teams from 180 countries. “Robotics offers so many benefits to kids for their education and future careers,” said McTaggart. “In addition to the technical skills required to design, build, program and operate the robot, it also teaches communication, problem-solving and teamwork.”

There were 112 students participating from two islands, as Cayman Brac's Layman E. Scott High School entered a team for the first time. John Gray High School and Cayman International School both entered a record four teams this year.

In addition to awards for the winning and runner-up alliances, the FIRST Tech Challenge also presents an award for excellence in innovation and engineering design, which was won by CIS. St. Ignatius and Cayman Prep won the Team Spirit Award, and the Inspire Award went to CIS for being a strong ambassador for the programme and an inspiration to other teams. The Judges Choice Award for outstanding effort was given to John Gray High School.

Selection for the national team

Cayman Islands National Robotics team coach Desmond White was watching performances at the FIRST Tech Challenge carefully, as students participating are eligible for the Cayman Islands National Robotics team. Teachers nominate students for selection by an interview panel that includes a mixture of sponsors and engineering professionals.

“The standard of competition is increasing every year,” said White, who was a coach on the team that went to FIRST Global in Geneva last October. “We reuse the kit components every year, so it’s interesting to see how designs evolve to suit the different tasks required by this year’s theme. Half the skill is in programming the robot to complete the autonomous part of the challenge, then it’s down to the operator to navigate the obstacles and other robots in the arena in real time. It’s not an easy feat. I’m impressed by the skill on display today.”

The venue and theme for 2023 FIRST Global Challenge are yet to be announced. Selection for the Cayman Islands National Team will begin in April, with the international tournament taking place in the fall.