This week the International Space Station (ISS) will be converted into a robotics gaming arena for the fifth time. More than 100 secondary school students will come to ESTEC, ESA’s Space Research and Technology Centre, to participate in the live ISS finals of the Zero Robotics High School Tournament 2016, through a live link with the ISS.
The finals can be followed live online:
This is a worldwide competition, with parallel events being held in the USA and Australia. For the last few months, teams of European students, aged 14 to 20 from schools in ESA Member States, have been working together with teams from other continents.
In September 2016, students across Europe began applying their maths and physics skills to write computer code to solve problems and control robots, called SPHERES, onboard the ISS. SPHERES – or Synchronised Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites – are volleyball-sized satellites which obey remote commands and, despite the weightless conditions on the ISS, can move around using their own power, propulsion, and navigation.
The theme of the 2016 tournament is ‘Space SPHERES’. Within the imaginary world of the game, the Earth is becoming uninhabitable, and humans must permanently relocate to Mars. Students need to move their SPHERES around the ISS to virtually build satellites that will orbit Mars, in order to scout out the best locations for human inhabitation. Each Zero Robotics student team has to compete against rival company ‘SPACE-Y’ to build a virtual satellite as quickly as possible.
The competition has progressed through multiple rounds of increasing complexity. Previous rounds have been played on an online visualisation platform, which students also had access to in order to test their code. The final round of the competition began in December, when teams combined to form fourteen international alliances, each containing up to three teams.
On 27 January, the live ISS finals of the 2016 tournament will take place between the final fourteen alliances. Eighteen of the teams involved in alliances that are taking part in the live ISS finals are from ESA Member States including Italy, France, Greece, Poland, Romania, and the United Kingdom. During the live ISS event, the alliances will watch as the SPHERES race to build virtual satellites using code written by the students themselves. European teams will also connect via video conference with teams participating in the parallel events hosted in the USA by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and in Australia by the University of Sydney.
ESA’s Education team wishes good luck to all teams participating in the finals!