Metal Minds Robotics Club – Nurturing the tech champions of today and the future
Youngsters are creating endless opportunities and a close-knit community of robotics enthusiasts in the city of Launceston in Tasmania's north
In today’s fast-changing world, technology is evolving at an incredible pace. In northern Tasmania the Metal Minds Robotics Club is equipping young people with the knowledge and skills to successfully navigate the technology filled world of the future.
Robotics, coding, science, and engineering skills are widely seen as the building blocks of the future, so imagine if a 10 year old could get a good head start and turn their love of robotics or fascination with coding into an exciting career when they’re an adult. It could all begin by programming a robot to pick up cubes at a national competition with the Metal Minds Robotics Club.
“The Metal Minds Robotics Club was founded in 2013 by my 15 year old son Harry,” explains club secretary Kathryn Heathcote, who moved to Tasmania from Lancashire, England with her family 12 years ago.
“Since its inception it has progressed way beyond our expectations. Harry was being home schooled and wanted to learn about robotics. I said it wasn’t my field but your father can help – my husband is a software, electrical and automation engineer.”
Harry gathered four of his friends around the kitchen table and after learning the basics, they realised that robotics events and competitions could take them all over the world. Their interest soon grew beyond the kitchen table and expanded into the family garage.
Before long they had developed a 20 kilogram robot made with hand tools to take to the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) in Sydney. FIRST is the acronym in place of For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology and is open to 14 to 18 year olds to learn about robotics, design, building and programming. The FIRST Lego League (FLL) is for younger enthusiasts aged 10 to 16 years. In 2018, the club hosted Tasmania’s FLL state competition with 23 Tasmanian teams gathering in Launceston.
Teamwork is vitally important and so is strategic thinking. Competing teams are given a technical challenge. They are then tasked with designing, building, testing and programming their robot. Last year, the theme was ‘Into Orbit’ and the challenge focused on space activity.
“We’re provided with all the structures, moon landing bases and a LEGO programmable brick. We then build attachments to make the robot run. Teams have two and a half minutes to get the robot set before it has to complete the technical challenge on its own. There is also a project aspect that requires teams to collaborate in finding solutions to real life problems – such as those encountered by astronauts. Judging covers the robot game, project, and demonstrating the core values of helping other people and other teams.”
The club has grown from its humble beginnings, now boasting 20 members and a long waiting list. Supported by subscriptions and fundraising, the independent club is able to purchase new equipment and take team members to competitions. As interest grows, the club is looking to expand beyond Launceston and across Tasmania.
“One of the great things about our club is the new friendships that form and the nurturing of young minds,” says Kathryn. “We’ve had children who, after a year with us, are no longer timid. We do a lot of community work, which includes presentations to Rotary. Public speaking about robotics really helps children to build confidence.”
The Metal Minds team have represented Tasmania five times at the nationals in Sydney. In 2018, they were the first Tasmanians to participate in the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championships in Houston, Texas, where they were placed 50 out of 128 teams.
“It’s wonderful to see what club members go on to do,” adds Kathryn. “Two founding members are now mentors, another is a mechatronics engineer and one went to the University of Tasmania at aged 17, got his degree and is now heading to Monash University in Melbourne to do his PhD.”
Want to join?
Members must be 10 years or older and it’s advantageous to have some prior experience in Java programming, basic hand tools, Lego Technic, and some maths knowledge. Workshops and competition opportunities are open to all and they are always looking for more mentors to set up teams across the State.
Are you interested in making a move? Make it Tasmania.