Empty shelves at the supermarket. Cargo ships queuing at ports. A shortage of truck drivers. Rising fuel costs and longer delivery times. Disruptions to the global supply chains over the past two years have created a freight frenzy that has impacted us all.

“Freight Frenzy” was therefore a timely theme of this year’s FIRST Tech Challenge, an inter-school robotics competition hosted by Minds Inspired at Camana Bay’s Arts & Recreation Centre on 26 March. Ten teams, comprising 80 students from five high schools in Grand Cayman, designed, built, programmed and operated robots to compete in the inter-school tournament.

Each year, students are tasked with designing and building a robot that can complete tasks and solve real-life problems. For Freight Frenzy, teams faced transportation and logistical challenges as they navigated their robots past obstacles, moved items around the arena and delivered their "packages" to score points.

Automation was a key component of the challenge as the first 30 seconds of each round relied on programming the robots to complete the first task. Teams could then use their remote controls to operate their robots manually for the remainder of the task.

After 10 rounds, the top-scoring teams chose a team to ally with in the knockout rounds. In the final match, an alliance between two teams from Cayman International School won against an alliance between John Gray High School and Triple C School to become tournament champions.

“The alliance format tests the teams’ ability to collaborate, communicate and change tactics as well as their technical skills,” said Dart Senior Manager Education Programmes Glenda McTaggart, who runs the competition as part of Minds Inspired’s annual programme of events focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). “The competition is designed to show students how STEM subjects can be applied in real life and in future careers.”

The winning Cayman International School alliance included Loic Magnan, Nicole Keilczewski, Robbie Sved, Max Clarke and Kyah Morris, with their robot Grogu, on one team; and Josh Cowell, Alex Walters, Jordan Lisle, Max Haug, Finn Childs and Zion Bodden, with their robot Herbert, on another team.

All students who participated in the FIRST Tech Challenge are now eligible for nomination to the Cayman Islands national robotics team that will compete against teams from 180 countries in the FIRST Global Challenge in Geneva, Switzerland, in October.

The event was sponsored by Dart, Cayman Utilities Company, Digicel, Aureum Re and Health City Cayman Islands.

“The event would not be possible without the help and support of our sponsors," said McTaggart. “As well as funding the robotics kits, they volunteer their time as judges, scorekeepers and technical experts, for which we are truly grateful.”

Cayman Utilities Company President and CEO Richard Hew commented on the importance of robotics in generating electricity.

“Robotics is a key area of interest for CUC, due to the role it plays in the growing demand for automation, controls, protection and optimal energy generation," he said. "We believe in giving students from the Cayman Islands exposure to a wide range of disciplines the field of robotics offers, in order to pique their interests at an early age."

This article was originally published in the April 2022 print edition of Camana Bay Times.