An Australian all-girl team has scored first place at a highly competitive robotics competition.

Melbourne-based RoboCats, a 17-member team of 13-18 year olds, is now off to Houston to compete in the global championships against 600 other teams.

The girls, who came together from different schools, were mentored by Dr Therese Keane and lecturer Milorad Cerovac, both of Swinburne University of Technology.

Despite having only 19 days of meet-ups amidst holiday and back-to-school season within the project period, Keane said it had been a positive experience. 

“The girls designed, programmed and built a robot within 6 weeks, facilitated by the Swinburne Innovation Precinct. They learnt lots of different skills, made new friends and worked as a team alongside university and industry mentors in multidisciplinary roles,” she said.

This project allowed them to compete with 39 other teams in the South Pacific Regional Championships in Sydney last week.

RoboCats secured the top title in an alliance with Barkers College and Macquarie University.

“Our philosophy is that we want the girls to appreciate that building robot is not one solitary skill they’ve got. They’re utilising their maths skills, their design and building and programming skills,” said Keane.

“When you solve a problem, it’s a process using all the different skills you’ve learned,” she said.

Keane founded the team in late 2014 and has a longstanding association with robotics in education coupled with an expertise in gender inequality in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

“What impressed me most about the girls was that they were gentle and confident in a quiet way – not arrogant.

 “We are a very humble organisation. We’ve only been doing this for 3 years,” Keane said.

The winning RoboCats

The competition was held by FIRST Australia, an organisation that seeks to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. (FIRST is an acronym: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.)

RoboCats first tasted victory winning the Judges Award at Australia’s inaugural FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) in 2015.

With this win, more young girls were inspired to try their hand in this field, said Director of FIRST Australia, Luan Heimlich.

“Last year, 40 – 45% of competitors were girls,” she said. “This year I know it’s more.”

Heimlich, whose daughter Sarah was among the first alumni from FIRST, said the key to encouraging more girls to join is to connect them in a way that makes them feel empowered.

“It’s about making sure they understand we’re not doing technology just for technology’s sake. It has to have some real world meaning.

“The other part of the competition has to do with outreach and changing the world with your message, which is something that is very different at FIRST. That really appeals to girls, which is why we’re seeing the numbers go up,” she said.