Robotics catching on in post-quake Chch

23:05, Aug 04 2013
Harry Loughnan
GAME CHANGER: Harry Loughnan with two of his robots.

While there has been a lot of debate about young people and what they want in the future city of Christchurch, there seems to be little action to deliver on these requirements.

Christchurch has no shortage of wonderful, creative ideas being discussed in board rooms, living rooms and class rooms throughout the city. What we as a city seem to be struggling with is turning those ideas into reality and convening or developing a process to harness that creativity.

At the moment there is a resurgence of young people in the city. Enrolments for the first intake at CPIT's Trades Innovation Institute (TII) are up 39 per cent as the rebuild kicks into gear.

It would seem then that young people can see a future here and they do want to be part of the town and the rebuild. What we need to do now is ensure that we provide young people with the facilities and experiences to not only stay here but to return and enjoy the lifestyle.

Last year, the CPIT Foundation recognised that it was essential to understand what young people wanted from the new city. We wanted to find out what attractions, facilities and experiences would help make them stay? We asked what we could do as a facilitator to make young people's dreams for Christchurch a reality.

We ran a campaign called The Big Idea to provide our young residents with an opportunity to share their views and tell us what they wanted in the new city. We had an amazing response, with more than 500 young people submitting entries. Ideas ranged from the impossible to the very possible and clearly demonstrated that there is no shortage of talent and imagination in the city. From theme parks to shared spaces, sculpture zones, market areas and museums, young people shared their enthusiasm and vision for Christchurch.

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There were several consistent themes evident in entries, including that it is definitely a non-negotiable for free wi-fi to be available in the central city.

The winning idea though came from a young man called Harry Loughnan. His vision is for the inner city to develop a Robotics centre. Now, I won't lie, it took some time for our trustees to truly understand and grasp this concept, with an average age in the early to mid-50s we're not the obvious target market.

Vex Robotics was launched in response to a worldwide shortage of engineers; it aims to encourage the teachings of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). It was introduced in New Zealand in 2008 by Massey University and is currently managed in this country by a charitable trust called Kiwibots.

Robotics is big in Christchurch and is growing in popularity. Just recently, the New Zealand teams dominated the 2013 Vex Robotic world champs for the fifth year running with one of our teams crowned world champions in sack attack, the 2013 game concept. New Zealand teams also finished first and second in the robot skills competition.

As a sport, Vex Robotics is the fastest growing robotics competition in the world with more than 6700 teams worldwide representing 21 countries. Each April, at the World Championships, the new concept game is announced for the coming season. Teams are then given the chance to build robots that suit the game and to compete at local tournaments to test their developments.

It's a fantastic sport and once the CPIT Foundation understood the potential of Robotics and Harry's vision for its future in Christchurch we committed to trying to make it happen.

But now the hard work begins. It is now the time that we need others to get up out of that chair, meeting room, classroom and to stop talking, even dreaming and take action.

In an opinion piece published in November last year Mayor Bob Parker made the following comments.

"Let us bring Generation C to our doorstep, supplementing our own young with the creative energy of those from around our own country and the Asia-Pacific Indo- Australian region. Let us be bold, back ourselves, and remember that with the best will in the world no-one else is going to do it for us."

It is this last sentiment that resonates most with trustees of the CPIT Foundation. We know that for us to be effective and to really add value to the rebuild we are going to have to take on the role of facilitator, linker, collaborator and co-ordinator. We are going to have to spend time exploring and researching the most effective and efficient ways to turn dreams into tangible realities. And we are going to have to attempt to bring together partners from across the city and across sectors to work together.

We want to share the more than 500 ideas from young people in the city we collected with anyone who wants to take a look. What the city needs now, and what CPIT Foundation intends to do, is to step into the space of making these ideas a reality. So, expect a call from us and if you are keen to be involved, touch base with us and together as a community we can make a difference.

Carl Pascoe is chairman of the CPIT Foundation. The foundation was established as an independent charitable trust in 1984 and it exists to promote and support the applied vocational, educational and research activities of CPIT, staff and students.

The Press