Robotics in Tel Aviv

On Thursday, courtesy of Peleg, I had a chance to visit the Israeli National Robotics Competition being held at the old Nokia Stadium (now the Menora Mivtachim Arena), the home of Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team.

The event is part of an international competition – officially, the FIRST Robotics Competition – with six of the teams from Israel graduating to the USA hosted finals in St Louis, Missouri.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was absolutely glorious: a microcosm of the real Israel, featuring kids at play, smarts on show, noise, fun, celebration, friendly competition, informality, and overall a terrific buzz.

The competition had several rounds with each alliance of three teams (each from a school) competing against the clock and one another. The goal was to get the robot to build a tower of plastic crates, a huge garbage bin and lid, and a foam tube. The more crates, the more points. The more towers, the most points. And so on. Rankings were for average score per round.

The event was well marshaled, with proper judging, and great compering. The commentary was enthusiastic and kept everyone interested. There were several huge screens so you could see what was going regardless of where you were.

There were breaks for awards – best engineering, most innovative design, and others. The cool thing about the awards is that the winning team representatives collected these from a row of t-shirt clad judges, shaking hands with each of the them.

The atmosphere was wonderful. The teams all had their own t-shirt uniform and more. There were teams with angels wings, wicked hair motifs, drums, banners, flags, and more.

In between the rounds there was loud music, including an audience participation Macarena, and lost more fun stuff that people were singing along to and joining in with.

Importantly, although this was a competition, there seemed like no edge; this was friendly. The team members gave respectful greetings to one another, and were clearly there to have fun, regardless of the result. That did not stop them all trying to win. Parents, friends, schoolmates, and hangers on were in the arena – commendably about half full – shouting on encouragements. It was noisy.

In short, this was geek cool fun.

Peleg, I cannot thank you enough for letting me experience this.

Now the photos. They are not great. Blame the photographer who was not well enough organized to have a proper camera on hand. You can click on each picture to see a slightly larger version.

Towers completed inside the arena

Towers completed inside the arena

A better view of a robot in action. Note the scoring display on the monitor.

A better view of a robot in action. Note the scoring display on the monitor.

The (pinstriped) judges keeping a close eye on things

The (pinstriped) judges keeping a close eye on things

Supporter plus drum. Glad he was sitting far away from me!

Supporter plus drum. Glad he was sitting far away from me!

A wider view of the competition field

A wider view of the competition field plus big screens

Some of the crowd, singing along, giving it laldy!

Some of the crowd, singing along, giving it laldy!

Judges lining up to receive and applaud award winners. Cool dudes.

Judges lining up to receive and applaud award winners. Cool dudes.

Crowding in to the field after the final game. Celebration all round.

Crowding in to the field after the final game. Celebration all round.