Robotics invades Chilean schools

More than one hundred centers nationwide now have robotics workshops, and a team from Santiago recently won the world championship.


“Don’t let it knock over the obstacles!” says a hopeful 12-year-old Martín Fuenzalida as he watches the robot that he and his classmates designed climb stack of telephone books, maneuver through mazes, carry objects, climb ropes, and move when it ‘hears’ a sound. The development requires design and computer programming, and if it doesn’t work, it’s back to the drawing board.

Martín is in seventh grade, and like many other students at the San Ignacio school, he participates in robotics workshops, an area that is currently taking Chile by storm. Many schools have incorporated robotics into their extra-curricular activities, and more than one hundred public and private schools now compete in national and even international competitions.

Other schools, such as the National Institute, Cumbres, and Nocedal, have also competed successfully. For example, in April the Nocedal school’s Lego Robotics team from the municipality of La Pintana won the world Technological Innovation category in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, for their invention of a sophisticated solar powered automatic irrigation system.

The atmosphere in the San Ignacio School workshop is one of collaboration and camaraderie. “The students work together on the computer to design, build, and program the robot, and then they test and evaluate it,” explains Pablo Torres, the physics professor who directs the activity. The entire group participates in the evaluation. “They analyze the project critically to determine whether they have met the objectives and found the most creative and efficient solutions,” he adds. The students work with the Lego Mindstorm Education proposal that uses Lego kits for robot design.

The San Ignacio school has also incorporated an ecological focus into their projects for international competitions. “One of our topics was the installation of solar panels in one of the school’s buildings, which finally turned into a campaign for efficient energy use, and the other was the production of clones through the micro-propagation of native trees adapted to semi-desert zones for the reforestation and management of hydrographic basins,” says Torres.

The national and international tournaments encourage the groups to meet, participate, and share experiences with students from other schools and have also generated a national-level community of a hundred young robotics enthusiasts interested in learning more about this area that combines science, innovation, creativity, and teamwork within a broad spectrum of skills that are very much in demand today.

Some, such as tenth-grader Juan Pablo “the Fox” Rodríguez, also participate in Corazó, the first Chilean team to take part in the FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition), an educational program organized by the US foundation FIRST that aims to bring different technological communities together through a robotics competition.

University Support

Andrés Bello University’s Engineering Department created the Inter-School Educational Robotics Tournament in 2005. According to Alvaro Alvarez, who coordinates the project, the university has developed workshops in schools across the country that motivate hundreds of students from all over Chile to participate in the event.

“With the help of state funds from the Explora-Conicyt program we have visited a number of cities to train students and teachers and motivate them to create their own robotics communities and workshops,” Alvarez explains.

Other establishments that also benefit from the project include hospital schools and oncology centers, such as Sótero del Río and Ezequiel González. Developed in conjunction with the Fundación Nuestros Hijos (Our Children Foundation), this robotics initiative becomes a powerful ally for motivating and maintaining the spirits of children battling serious illnesses.