For the past three months, nine teams from local high schools across Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac have been working to develop prototypes of their robots to compete in the first Minds Inspired MI robotics’ FIRST Technical Challenge, themed “Rover Ruckus.”

Sponsored by Aureum Re, Caribbean Utilities Co., Dart, Digicel and Cayman Islands Health City, the space-themed event will take place from 4-8pm on Saturday, May 11 at the Camana Bay Arts & Recreation Centre.

Dart Chief Executive Officer Mark VanDevelde says the mission of Minds Inspired is to provide young people in the Cayman Islands with unique learning experiences, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as STEM.

“Through MI Robotics and in partnership with four other likeminded, local businesses, Dart aims to prepare the next generation to fill the jobs of the future,” he says. “We are proud to add new robotics programming to Minds Inspired’s ever-expanding schedule of annual events.”

Dart Education Programmes Senior Manager Glenda McTaggart says the FIRST Technical Challenge will be an out-of-this-world experience for participating students and spectators alike.

“We are going to dramatically ‘up’ the level of energy, excitement and spectacle to create a competition unlike anything our community has seen in terms of educational events,” she says, adding that the event will feature a DJ, food for purchase, and career booths hosted by each of the major sponsors.

Spectators are encouraged to attend the event and cheer on the student teams representing Cayman International School, Cayman Islands Further Education Centre, Cayman Prep and High School, Clifton Hunter High School, Grace Christian Academy, John Gray High School, Layman Scott High School, St. Ignatius Catholic School, and the Triple C School.

The FIRST Technical Challenge will serve as a pre-qualifier for nomination to the National Robotics Team that will represent the Cayman Islands at the FIRST Global Challenge in Dubai later this year.

“The Global Challenge is an incredible learning experience and we want to make sure all students in the Cayman Islands have the chance to participate,” says McTaggart, explaining that selection for the National Team will be open to all participating students and will be based on nominations from the supervising teachers and team members.

With such high stakes, McTaggart says the robots designed by the local students will require a higher level of sophistication.

“The theme informs what the robots should be able to do in the arena,” she says. “The robots will need to be able to navigate autonomously, collect items and manoeuvre over uneven terrain.”

Teachers, and mentors from CUC, who received special training through MI Robotics serve as guides and mentors to the student teams. Stan Hunter, an award-winning educator and founder of Canada’s top robotics team, led the training earlier this year and  is returning to serve as official referee for the FIRST Technical Challenge.

“The teachers and mentors have been working outside of school hours to attend robotics training and help the students design and build their rovers,” McTaggart says. “Their dedicated support is crucial to the programme’s success.”

During the event, the student teams will be randomly paired to form alliances to compete against each other in the ring. Partners in one match could become opponents in the next.

McTaggart says the format requires teamwork and encourages the students to work collaboratively.

“To be successful, they have to work as a team and adapt to each other’s strengths,” she says. “Beyond the technical aspects of designing the robots, the social skills emphasised in the competition are also essential to the students’ continued development as future leaders in our community.”