WRO Canada was supposed to host the International Final this year. Their robotics season was planned to run in April-May, with the National Final on May 31, but schools closed without warning and everything was cancelled. Instead, the national organizer created an online competition in the beginning of May, where 80 kids who were lucky enough to have their robots at home joined in.

“The kids were SO happy to be able to participate in a small event, even if they were not with their friends and other participants. People enjoyed this so much. We didn’t think it was going to be so warmly welcomed,” says Marianne Bruneau, part of the Organizing Committee, WRO2020 Canada, Zone01.

Real robots instead of virtual

The competition, a pilot to find out if WRO Canada might be able to do a regional or National Final the same way, was held with real robots. Marianne Bruneau says:

“Some countries use Virtual, but we prefer it this way. Sometimes kids build robots in a funny way that wouldn’t fit in the virtual environment, but they work in real life.”

The biggest challenge was to synchronize everything without a test-run. At a normal event you get to build the venue the day before, meet coaches and try all equipment. Dominic Bruneau, National Organizer, teaming with Marianne and the judges did a small judge rehearsal – and trusted the kids to be ready with their mat and timer, and fully prepared for the challenge.

RobotMarket on Zoom

On the day, the kids and their parents connected to the main Zoom call for an opening ceremony, after which the kids were placed in six Zoom rooms with a Zone01 judge – it took about two hours to do two rounds per team.

The challenge was called RobotMarket and was mainly about grocery shopping. Robots had to deliver fruits and vegetables in the right sections of grocery stores. The kids used real fruits and vegetables: Oranges, apples, strawberries, cucumbers and broccoli were being moved around on the mats. One participant, a 7-year-old girl in the WeDo category, had an apple in Round 1. By Round 2 there was only the heart of the apple left.

After their rounds, the kids returned to the main Zoom call for the closing ceremony and to see who won. Extra awards were given – an Engineering Award and the Biggest Smile Award – because Marianne and her team wanted this event to be fun, and not too competitive.

Possible online final

After this first online competition, WRO Canada believes it would be feasible to run a National Final in a similar way. But it would need a whole lot more preparation, and more ‘masters’, as Marianne calls it, to control the calls, the ceremonies and the participants. She says:

“We saw that with only 80 kids, parents coming along and families too, so we had a lot of people connected to all those calls. You also need to make sure you are on time and not late on the schedule. In short, preparation is the key!” 

People don’t have to move to learn

WRO Canada has their headquarters in the province of Quebec. Quebec has reported the highest number of cases of COVID-19 in Canada, having more infections than all the rest of Canada combined. Not surprisingly, all physical events have been paused. Primary schools opened 11 May, but high schools are closed until September 1st. University classes are still ongoing, but everything is online for now.

Zone01 has online clubs in three cities, where robotics instructors teach using Zoom. The kids just order a little mat, and they can learn in their kitchen.

“It’s all about taking advantage of the fact that people don’t have to move to learn. You can learn everything online. Kids, even if they are on vacation, they like learning and doing projects. This is life 2.0 and we need to build on it.”

Key learnings from the event

  • In a bigger event, it would be better if parents acted as judges because they are with the kids. They see the mat and the round so it’s easier to take the scores, than for an outside judge that is at home and has to ask the kid to move the camera to see clearly.
  • Having commentators in each Zoom call was a great idea! It brought life and excitement to the event.
  • You need a really good Internet connection without risk of losing it. Everything relies on highspeed Internet.