Gauteng learners use robotics competition to find innovative solutions for improving food quality.

26 teams from across the province will compete in the Gauteng South Regional Finals of the FIRST® LEGO® League Robotics tournament on Saturday 12 November at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown, Johannesburg.

FIRST LEGO League (FLL) is an international Robotics Team Competition designed to get children excited about science and technology while teaching valuable employment and life skills.  The initiative aims to encourage future engineers to:

  • Create innovative solutions to challenges facing today’s scientists
  • Strategize, design, build, program and test an autonomous robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS® technology
  • Apply real-world math and science concepts
  • Develop career and life skills
  • Become involved in their local and global community

Working in teams, learners design, build and programme robots to solve set challenges around a theme that changes annually.  The theme for 2011, Food Factor Challenge has over 200,000 youth (9 – 16yrs)  across the globe competing to see if they can improve the quality of food by finding ways to prevent food contamination.   The theme challenges teams to explore the topic of food safety and examine the possible points of contamination that our food encounters – from exposure to insects and creatures, to unsterile processing and transportation, to unsanitary preparation and storage – and then find ways to prevent or combat these contaminates.

The competition includes both a project and the robot game.  Each team will have five minutes to present their project to a panel of judges.  The project involves research into the real-world problem of food safety and the creation of an innovative solution. .  In the Robot Game, teams will build, test, and program an autonomous robot using LEGO® MINDSTORMS® NXT to solve a set of Food Safety missions within a limited time.

A key of the project research is to encourage participating teams to learn more about the science behind the Challenge theme and better understand the work of professionals in this field. Learners from last year’s competition had this to say: “The project really inspires us about careers.  Before this we never even knew that these careers existed! … We are using our maths skills and understanding how mathematics, science and technology do go together and how this applies in real life.”

Working with the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE), Sci-Bono has selected and sponsored 10 deserving schools to participate the 2011 FLL championship.  With funding from the GDE each of the ten schools were given the full robotics kit and challenge sets to a value of R12,000 each. In addition to taking the teams to the regional launch, Sci-Bono facilitated a pre-training session and hosted two mock challenges to help prepare learners for the finals.  A mentor has also visited schools who have requested additional support.

The regional competition taking place at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre on Saturday 12 November from 9h30- 16h30, is celebrated as a technology festival. Teams decorate their stands, dress up and create cheers and dances to promote their entries.

Media and the general public are welcome to join in the fun at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, Newtown, Johannesburg.

To find out more about the First Lego League Tournament @Sci-Bono, contact Michael Ellis at 011 639 8490 or or visit the South African website