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ITER Robots - just like in real life!

-Iris Rona

They had left early—some of them very early—from different points of the Aix-Marseille region to be on time for the finals of the fourth ITER Robots competition. Organized by Agence Iter France and ITER Organization, in collaboration with the local representation of the French Ministry of National Education (Académie d'Aix-Marseille) and the CEA's magnetic fusion research institute (IRFM), the competition took place at the Lycée des Iscles in Manosque on Wednesday 20 May.

Months of preparation, imagination, trial-and-error, and hard work had forged their team spirit and the ten teams that had made it to the finals—five from junior high school and five from high school—were ready to compete.

''Our job is getting more and more difficult every year because the teams are performing better each time,'' commented ITER remote handling engineer and member of the jury Jean-Pierre Friconneau as he proclaimed the winners. (Click to view larger version...)
''Our job is getting more and more difficult every year because the teams are performing better each time,'' commented ITER remote handling engineer and member of the jury Jean-Pierre Friconneau as he proclaimed the winners.
The challenge, as in previous years, was based on the simulation of a real-life situation that will occur over the 20-year course of ITER operation: the removal by remote handling of selected blanket modules from the inner wall of the vacuum vessel, followed by transport of the modules to the nearby Hot Cell Facility. Each team had customized and programmed its Lego kit, passed preselection tests, and was now ready to face the jury and their peers.

Throughout the morning the teams were asked to perform trials of increasing complexity to demonstrate their capability to improvise and work under pressure.  "Just like in real life they learn to work toward an end result within a given deadline," said Alain Becoulet, director of IRFM.

To showcase how the different members of a team can work together for a single goal, each team had also prepared a small stand to "market" its robot to the world. "Creativity is not only how you engineer the final product but also how you sell it, just like in industry," as a member one of the teams says.

"Our job is getting more and more difficult every year because the teams are performing better each time," commented ITER remote handling engineer and member of the jury Jean-Pierre Friconneau as he proclaimed the winners in the high school (Lycée Antonin Artaud from Marseille) and junior high school (Collège Roger Carcassonne from Pélisanne) categories.

"Don't give up, persevere, and work, work, work, is my advice for next year's participants," said the leader of one of the winning teams, "But in the end, it's the teamwork that makes the difference."


A report of the ITER Robots competition can be viewed on French TV here (begins at 12'39").


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