The ITER Organization is always looking for future fusion experts. Since 2012, school children have been taking part in a competition called “ITER Robots”. The challenge is a win-win situation for both ITER and the pupils.

Robots on a circuit

Picture: Wikimedia

The number of participants in the ITER Robots competition is growing. From the original two regional schools that subscribed to the first tournament, it has grown to incorporate 500 students from 30 regional secondary and higher-education establishments for this year’s competition. Each team, regardless of its school level, participates in four technical trials to be solved by robots which they have trained in school. One of these tasks is “The way challenge”. The robots must be guided following a marked course. The robot that conquers the circuit the fastest and in the most precise way makes its team a winner. (Picture: Wikimedia)

It’s not just all fun and games

ITER Robots benefits both sides. The project has already made the world’s largest fusion experiment famous for school children. They get to visit the big construction site when the final fight takes place on site in Cadarache. The competition is not only fun and games but also hard work and extra hours at school. It takes six months to prepare for the final match. The applicants subscribe to ITER Robots in November but the event only takes place in May of the following year. The project becomes part of the regular syllabus, as a special technology lesson or as part of a robotics group.

In a scientific conference in February, the organisers, the Agence ITER France and its partners ITER Organization, Aix Marseille Nice Academy and EUROfusion’s French Research Unit CEA IRFM, inform the teams about the specifics of the devices and explain the principles and rules. During a mid-step assessment sometime later, the contestants present their work to the scientific committee which consists of ITER, Agence ITER France, CEA engineers and teachers.

Contestants following “their” robot during the ITER robots competition last year. Pictures: Agence ITER France

Contestants following “their” robot during the ITER robots competition last year. Pictures: Agence ITER France

Cross-disciplinary approach

Teachers enjoy the practical approach of this project: “This contest corresponds to the actual educational ‘cross disciplinary approach’; from technology to French and foreign languages as well as history, from science to general international knowledge”, says teacher Hari Ratiarison. His team from the Rosa Parks School in Marseille won the ITER Robots competition last year.
The robots, by the way, can be built with free design kits (Arduino, Raspberry Pi) or Lego Mindstorm robots. The teams are asked to purchase their own equipment themselves.

“In fact, creativity is highly encouraged”, says Sylvie André, Head of Communications and External Relations from Agence ITER France.

She hopes that ITER Robots will rise from a national competition to a European challenge, as it is already the case for the real ITER tasks.

For what it’s worth

It is not only a question of value for the ITER project that young people can be trained and educated on their site. It is also important for the young participants: “For my students it was a way to display that they exist, in other words, to prove that their work matters and, in the end, to show their worth”, explains teacher Ratiarison.

Competitors during the final match of ITER robots in May last year. About 500 school children will participate in 2017.

Competitors during the final match of ITER robots in May last year. About 500 school children will participate in 2017.