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Tropical getaway all about robots

ROSE CAWLEY
Last updated 10:50 01/08/2014

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Most people visit Samoa for the sun and sand but Doug Bryan went there to show kids how to build robots.

The 51-year-old has been teaching at Onehunga High School in Auckland for 20 years and was key to starting up robotics at the college.

His team picked up the top spot at the international VEX Robotics Competition in 2012. Now he is helping pass those skills on to high school students in Samoa through the Robotics Charitable Trust.

"One of the young kids I was dealing with came up to me afterwards and said, ‘I'm only 14-years-old but this is the best experience of my life'," he says.

The fun side of robotics is a winning formula for capturing students' interest in technology and science, he says.

He and a team imparted the basics of robotics to teachers and students at six high schools on a three-day boot camp during the July holidays. One of the biggest hurdles was empowering those involved in the project, Bryan says.

"I teach a lot of Polynesian kids, I think they make up 30 per cent of our roll here, so I know that it does work for them.

"It was also getting the teachers to overcome their fear around teaching it because it is something totally brand new for them."

Bryan says the company that runs the world championship has created snap-together robotics pieces.

"It takes away all the nuts and bolts and because it looks simpler it takes away a lot of the fear.

"It is really good to get people who have no idea about it on board."

The Mangere resident says the skills gained from being involved in robotics could help change the future of Samoa.

"If we can get these kids thinking in an engineering way then maybe they can improve the wellbeing of themselves.

"It is a huge benefit for a place like Samoa where they have to get everything shipped in. Their power source is diesel generators and that is where the electricity comes from."

Bryan says Samoan students often have little access to computers, but he hopes that creating an interest and passion in technology among the younger generation will drive the sector's growth.

"Every single one of them walked away with this massive smile and a belief in themselves that they can do this, they can make a robot."

Kiwibots national manager Chris Hamling says the project came about through a partnership with philanthropist John Hodgson.

"He has fallen in love with the place and the people and he wanted to put money back into Samoa.

"Just because they are isolated doesn't mean that they can't get involved in technology.

"It is almost like pulling yourself up by your shoelaces."

Hamling says all six schools were given a robotics kit for classroom use, and a national competition is being put in place.

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