MSS16 Lego Robotics Competition – 13 Female Pilots!


“Three, Two, One,…”  the countdown on the screen has ended! The robot ventures onto the competition field. We are not talking about Curiosity or ExoMars, but Rich Wall E, the robot of Martina Russitano Lanza an ISU MSS16 student.

This year sees the biggest ever Lego robotics competition organized at ISU in collaboration with ENSIIE, consisting in 101 students split over 14 mixed teams. The objective to design, build, program and test a robot rover capable of avoiding obstacles, and then finding and collecting as many precious “gems” as possible hasn’t changed.
The pilot of each team, but one, is however in 2016 a woman!

Prof. Kazuya Yoshida, full professor in the department of Aerospace Engineering and Director of Center of Robotics for Extreme and Uncertain Environments at Tohoku University, Japan and co-leader for the fifth time in a raw of this competition, comments: “The percentage of women in science and engineering is still very small. Robotics and space exploration is a very exciting field. I am looking forward to more female contributions.”

robot competition2When it comes to gender ratio, engineering is one of the most highly imbalanced fields around. Not only are few women engineers working today, far fewer female students are entering space, science and technology-related fields compared to their male colleagues. And one of the fields where women are most strongly outnumbered is one that most needs diverse perspectives: robotics. The ISU Robotics Competition is a long-established and much loved part of the Masters program. It seemed like a good moment to speak with some female student roboticists about their experiences.
Martina has a background in physics and wants to go into robotics. She feels comfortable in a changing, but still male dominated sector and felt well integrated into the team. Her male team colleague, Misael Chagas, confirms: “Martina is our manager. She ensured the project ran smoothly!”

Martina, the advisee of Prof Hill, will be carrying out her three-month internship, as part of the Master of Space Studies program, at Tohoku University under the supervision also of Prof. Yoshida evidently in the field of robotics.

When asked “why did you name the robot Rich Wall-E?”, she responds “Wall E is a robot that swallows garbage, ours collects expensive gems!”.

Marie Isabey, a student in Computer Science at ENSIIE (École Nationale Supérieure d’Informatique pour l’Industrie et l’Entreprise) is very pleased with the choice of her education career, even if women are outnumbered. She is also happy to have had the opportunity to discover the ISU spirit and work together with international students, especially female ones on such an interesting and booming sector that robotics is.

Prof. Hugh Hill, leader of this workshop, and Prof. Stephane Genaud, director at ENSIIE, dedicated this competition, with affection, to the memory of two great men who touched our lives:

•    ENSIIE’s Mr. Martin Weil (1957-November 30, 2015)
•    ISU’s Professor Emeritus Nikolai Tolyarenko (1941-December 31, 2015)

All pictures and results of the MSS16 Lego robotics competition can be found HERE.