Young women gear up for FIRST Robotics Competition

Tuesday 28 February 2017

RoboCats 2017 LS

The girls-only RoboCats work on their robot for the FIRST Robotics Competition.

In summary

  • Fledgling engineers set up shop in advanced manufacturing hub
  • RoboCats to compete at Olympic Park with support of Swinburne Innovation Precinct

Swinburne has opened its state-of-the-art Factory of the Future to a team of young women set to compete in an international robotics competition.

Comprised of 17 students from Melbourne high schools, the girls-only RoboCats spent six weeks at Swinburne’s Hawthorn campus programming and building a 50kg robot for the FIRST Robotics Competition.

Led by mentors Dr Therese Keane, Deputy Chair of Education at Swinburne, and Swinburne alumni Milorad Cerovac, the team will compete in the South Pacific Regional at the Sydney Olympic Park in March.

The theme for this year’s competition is Steamworks, with teams challenged to launch a large airship via the collection, transportation, and depositing of plastic gears and balls.

RoboCats 2017 2 LS

Women in STEM

Dr Keane, who co-founded the team with Mr Cerovac in 2015, says the event is an opportunity to introduce young women to disciplines in which women are traditionally underrepresented.

“The interesting thing is that many of the girls do not see this as maths, science, technology or engineering, they see it as a fun activity where they have the chance to build a robot and make friends.”

In 2016, the RoboCats were one of three all-girl teams at the South Pacific competition, and the only one from Victoria.

“It’s fantastic to see the girls starting conversations about gender diversity,” Dr Keane says.

RoboCats 2017 2 LS

Supporting innovation

The RoboCats are sponsored by the Swinburne Innovation Precinct, with additional support from the Faculty of Health, Arts and Design, the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Technology, BAE Systems, Ford Australia, Rockwell Automation, Salesforce, Ivetech and Boeing.

They also had a team of mentors that included Swinburne Senior Electrical Technician Antonio Lione and Swinburne Bachelor of Engineering (Robotics and Mechatronics) (Hons)/Bachelor of Science (Computer Science) graduate Devon Boyd.

“We had more support than ever this year and it has made a huge difference,” Dr Keane says.

“The girls loved the whole experience of being on campus and being able to use all of the facilities.”