On Thursday, at IIT-Madras, among a crowd cheering little robots fighting each other, were schoolboys Akshath Narayanan and Rishabh Sengupta.
“Maybe we should not let the throttle be on power. Check if the wire is melting,” said Akshath to Rishabh, as they, very meticulously, made sure their robots did everything the judges wanted.
Later in the day, their team of five was among the finalists in the competition, having defeated over 25 college teams.
This scene at Kurukshetra 2013, the technical fest of the College of Engineering, Anna University, took the college students by surprise. Robot wars, an integral part of technical fairs, are no longer the bastion of college students.
“We went to the welder’s shop repeatedly and had to redraw the design several times. We wanted to create a bot that could run even at an angle, and so we made the wheels taller than the bot,” said Akshath, a class VII student of D.A.V. Boys Seniors Secondary School, Gopalapuram.
Frequent visits to IIT-Madras during the tech fest Shaastra was what helped them take their idea forward.
Akshath met Rishabh and his other teammates at the robotics class he goes to every weekend. The classes, run by Sneha Priya and S. Pranavan, graduates of Anna University, seek to bring out interest for robot-making in schoolchildren. The duo has been conducting these classes since the past three years.
“We realised teaching college students was not worthwhile. Many final-year students do not know what a resistor is. Once you are into engineering, there is no time for the basics,” said Sneha.
On the contrary, the enthusiasm in schoolchildren is infectious. “Robotics is all about practical work. Children want to experiment and since they have time to make mistakes and learn from them, their basics get stronger,” she said.
“A class like this costs between Rs. 700 and Rs. 800 a month. You can even get the kit and practise at home. Assembling the parts is fun,” said Aarush, another robotics enthusiast.