A team of young South Africans has taken the 2018 World Robotic Olympics by storm, returning home with a world record, gold medal and sixth overall ranking out of 175 countries.

Organised by US-based FIRST Global, the World Robotic Olympics stages a series of robotics challenges in Olympic-style format “designed to ignite a passion for science, technology, engineering and maths” (STEM) among the world’s 2 billion youths.

The competition is contested by one team per participating nation and aims to “build bridges between high school students from different backgrounds, languages, religions and cultures”. More than 65,000 learners compete in national run-ups, making South Africa’s performance even more impressive.

A winning team

The five-strong team, sponsored by CG Holdings, was put together in April and started preparing for the tournament in May.

On 12 August the Springbots, as they’re known, departed for Mexico City. They are: Barbara Moagi, head girl of Hoërskool Uitsig; Dzanga Matodzi, a grade 9 learner at Hoërskool Uitsig and the team spokesperson; Masana Phumudzo Mashapha, a grade 10 learner at Pretoria Girls High; Tshenolo Mokwana, a grade 11 learner at Olievenhoutbos Secondary School; and Mikhael Reddy, head boy of Hoërskool Uitsig and the team captain.

Jason English, CEO of CG Holdings, explains that “each country is randomly paired with two others, competing in eight qualifying rounds against 24 other teams to determine their overall tournament ranking. The theme for this year was energy impact, and points were scored for energy-efficient solutions on the playing field.”

Team South Africa’s robot was very effective at solar panel installations, scoring highest on the score sheet, says English. “In their second-to-last game of the qualification rounds, they set a new world record for the most points ever scored on the energy impact field. This record was however broken the next day again by Romania in the semi-finals.”

Proudly South African

The Springbots finished the qualification rounds ranked sixth world-wide and dedicated their record to Nelson Mandela, in what would have been his 100th birthday year.

Paired with South Korea (ranked 36th) and Croatia (ranked 67th), they went on to contest the quarter-finals but suffered a malfunction, resulting in a narrow loss and knock-out.

“What started out as a dream to finish in the top 70 countries ended in an inspiring story that got the attention of Walt Disney, a main sponsor of the tournament,” says English.

The iconic entertainment group awarded the Springbots a gold medal for their inspiring team journey of overcoming multiple challenges and their creativity in building an innovative robot that held its own against some of the global great robotic countries.

“It was an emotional experience,” said English. “These were kids with a purpose – a purpose to break down boundaries and work together to solve global challenges.”