Viewing archives for STEM

Winners in Cambridge! Trio using design to ‘make the world a better place’

Three sixth-formers won a Cambridge University competition with their design project aimed at protecting construction workers’ hearing.

After being highly commended in the Homerton College Design Programme, Shivam Singh, Yash Patel and Om Patel were invited to a residential weekend, along with more than 200 other highly commended entrants of the design challenge and a parallel essay competition.

The group had spent their first day at the college creating visual aids for their presentations. They and other teams then presented their designs to a room of about 20–30 people.

It was only when they attended the programme’s awards ceremony – held as part of the residential – that they discovered they were the overall winners, with their project receiving the highest marks in the whole competition.

Head of Technology Michael Noonan said: “Huge congratulations go to Shivam, Yash and Om, who demonstrated both creativity and considerable application in developing and presenting their design.”

The design programme’s theme was Building a Sustainable and Healthy World. It was open to Year 12 state school pupils from across the UK.

The QE trio, who are now in Year 13, designed a speaker to reduce noise pollution caused by machinery in the construction industry.

Om explained: “We implemented an active noise-cancelling solution which used principles of superposition and destructive interference to isolate noise to specific areas, keeping workers in the general vicinity safe, as well as reducing overall noise levels.”

In their feedback, the competition judges stated that it was an “excellent project, highly detailed and innovative [that] shows a dedication to making the world a better place”.

Shivam said: “We are proud to have won. The competition was tough: we saw some inspiring innovative projects that the other competitors entered.”

During the weekend, the boys attended an environmental sustainability conference, which included lectures and discussions on topics such as energy generation and how the media presents the climate crisis.

The weekend also featured a formal dinner and opportunities to talk to current Homerton College students and gain insight into life at Cambridge.

After returning to QE, the three reflected on their experiences:

  • Shivam said: “We were able to see other fascinating designs, meet like-minded individuals and discuss our designs and compare our thought processes.”
  • Yash said: “This experience opened our eyes to the environmental impacts engineers must consider when creating products; it’s added one more rigorous step to the design process for my future projects.” It had, he added, been “a fun taster of university life at Cambridge” where it was “great to be surrounded by like-minded individuals”.
  • Om said: “Sustainability is a hot topic of discussion; with our future dependent on the state of the physical world, it is essential that we, as the next-generation engineers, take the necessary steps to reduce our impact on the environment.”
Feel the power! QE debuts electric racing car

After two-and-a-half years of hard work, patience and perseverance, an electric car built by QE’s first Greenpower team overcame both mechanical challenges and terrible weather to perform strongly against much more experienced competitors in its first race.

Having gathered information at the Dunsfold Park track in Surrey early in September, the Year 11 team travelled to Castle Combe in Wiltshire for their first competitive outing.

A mechanical failure in the first race threatened to scupper their efforts, but the pit crew overcame the odds to get the car – called New Horizon – ready for the starting grid just a couple of minutes before the start of the second, and final, F24 race of the day.

Congratulating the team, Head of Digital Teaching and Learning Michael Noonan said: “Torrential rain was abundant, and while many other cars either could not hold the track, or simply retired, our team stuck to their task: in the second race, they finished a highly respectable 44th out of 79 competitors – a feat all the more impressive given that they carried out an extra driver swap to give all our students a chance to drive.”

The event was one of a series of races run by the Greenpower Education Trust, a UK-based charity which aims to get young people enthusiastic about science and engineering.

The boys planned, built and refined the car using a Greenpower kit. Having promoted the car themselves, they won sponsorship from Horizon Builders, a North London construction, decorating and property maintenance company.

“Using the experience gained at Dunsfold Park, home to the BBC’s Top Gear, the students spent many late evenings (including a few quick runs  around the School site) testing braking, circuitry, and speed,” said Mr Noonan.

Castle Combe is some 115 miles (186km) from the School, so the 12 team members had a 5.15am Sunday morning start on the day of the event. “They arrived in Wiltshire expecting a small crowd, given the early hour, but were instead greeted by the awesome sight of a total of 79 F24 (age 12–16) and 24 F24+ (age 16–24) teams in full flight with their preparations for the race day ahead. The sheer challenge which Greenpower would entail suddenly dawned on both staff and students!”

The boys duly threw themselves into preparing for the rigorous scrutineering process. “Following some adjustments to the braking system, and with the absolute minimum amount of time left, the team passed all tests, with only small notes on adjustments required for future races.

“From here, it was on to their first practice session – in some cases, students’ first experience of driving this car. The car, number 241 on the day, seemed to be performing admirably and was operating without fault. Each driver managed his session without any major issues, although it quickly because apparent that conditions were to worsen over the day, and that our performance would have to be adjusted to account for the wet weather.

“Following minor tweaks in the ‘paddock’, which had all the necessary tools and equipment, the first sets of drivers for the first race took to the grid. As the track lights signalled the commencement of the race, our relatively inexperienced team seemed to be punching above their weight; the last-minute aerodynamic and cooling adjustments provided for smooth racing.”

“It was at the point of driver change that a minor mechanical noise was noticed, and an inspection took place. With no obvious issue evident, the new driver took over and upon his first acceleration he managed to delink the chain! What had happened was that vibrations across the rear axle had loosened grub screws. With this looseness, the axle was ‘coasting’ left to right (which would slow the drive down enormously), and when our second driver took his seat and hit the throttle, the chain lodged against the chain guard at the link point and immediately disconnected!”

“The team was faced with disaster,” said Mr Noonan. “Having only covered 9.25 kilometres in their first race, they had to bow out just before the halfway point and immediately go about repairing the damage caused.”

With only two hours between races, the team had to strip back all mechanical items and re-assemble them to produce a working car. “Through sheer grit, determination and thanks in no small part to the kindness of other teams who happily supplied spare parts, New Horizon was race-ready with around two minutes to spare.”

Buoyed by their success in reaching the tight deadline, the boys set about trying to better their first race score and duly achieved this, ending the day with a score of 22.59. (Greenpower F24 race results are determined by a formula based on furthest distance travelled within the 90-minute time period, taking the better figure from the two races.)

Afterwards, team members reflected on the day. Adithya Raghuraman said the team had been “nervous from anticipation leading up to the day”, but that it had proved a “memorable” experience. “Even the journey to the track was incredible, despite it being brutally early in the morning. Getting to meet and collaborate with other schools, scavenge for parts from fellow teams, and enthusiastically wait for our car to come around near our pit each lap, were all valuable chances to learn, compete, and most importantly, enjoy.”

His fellow teammate, Daksh Vinnakota, and Year 10 apprentice Keeyan Shah were both also thrilled with the experience: it had been “a good opportunity to finally demonstrate our work over the past two years in a competitive situation,” said Daksh, with Keeyan adding that the day had provided “a unique insight into professional racing”.

Although after the start of the 2023 Autumn Term , the Castle Combe races were in fact the final regional round in the 2022–2023 Greenpower season. The QE team are now handing over to Year 10 boys, who were their apprentices in the 2022-23 season, and will be mentoring and supporting them throughout the rest of the new season.

“As the season unfolds, the 2023–24 Greenpower team will be looking for around four willing Greenpower apprentices from Year 9 to join the cause and ‘upskill’ with a view to competing in Year 10,” said Mr Noonan.

“This year’s team are already plotting a climb up the national leaderboard, which if they are fortuitous, will result in their participation at the Goodwood World Finals in October 2024.”

He added that the outgoing team had thanked their sponsors and the staff involved  – Science teacher Timothy Panis and Technology assistant Felix Chillingworth, as well as himself  – “for their support in finally seeing the Queen Elizabeth’s Greenpower team make their presence felt”.

Team members 2022–2023 season (current Year 11)
Soham Kale
Siddarth Oruganti
Rudra Patel
Adithya Raghuraman
Kavin Rameshshanker
Siraj Sidhu
Vinujan Sivakumar
Binaga Solangaarachchi
Ishanth Thangella
Daksh Vinnakota
Ethan Dias
Danyl Malchyk

Apprentices 2022–2023 season (current Year 10)
Taha Sebbar
Keeyan Shah
Dev Malde
Balaram Kataria
Yuvraj Patel
Ayush Saha
Parv Gandhi
Shashank Devaguptapu
Akshaj Vyas

Fired up and loving their STAARring roles!

Five QE boys got to grips with cutting-edge aerospace technologies at a summer residential after triumphing in a spring competition.

The group headed to Shropshire for the Summer Time Advanced Aerospace Residency (STAAR), at RAF Cosford, near Shifnal, and the nearby RAF Museum, learning from industry experts in a packed five-day programme.

Head of Digital Teaching and Learning Michael Noonan said: “It was fantastic to see students take the initiative and independently apply for the STAAR programme. The five were amongst a wide cohort who applied for a place on this highly prestigious residential, and from speaking with them on their return from the holidays, I know it has only further ignited a passion in them for careers and study in STEM-related subjects.”

The organisers of the event included education technology consultancy Tablet Academy (TA) Education. After the camp, its Head of Training, Samantha O’Leary, wrote to Mr Noonan full of praise for the QE boys: “They are a funny, confident, thoughtful, and intelligent bunch who integrated incredibly well with the students from the other schools. So much so, you wouldn’t have known they were from different schools at all. They were fantastic representatives for the school, and it was a pleasure to work with them.”

The QE five were among only 40 winners of the competition, which was open to those in Year 9 in 2022–2023. They were Keeyan Shah, Kyle Goldband, Neil Kulkarni, Keshav Aggarwal and Ishaan Mishra.

Keeyan said: “The STAAR residential was greatly enjoyable. We had an action-packed week filled with fun activities from coding a drone to flying a plane simulator. It was an amazing experience.”

Neil said: “We did quite a few activities at the residential, most of which included extremely high-tech tools. These included some things such as flight ‘sims’ and wind tunnels. We also had a chance to see roughly what living in an RAF base was like, with the mess hall and gym and things like that. Overall, it was an extremely fun, informative and unique opportunity and a highlight of our holidays.”

Keshav described the camp as a “a hands-on experience showing aerospace engineering and aeronautical design”. It was, he said, an “an eye-opening experience which will stay with me forever”.

Neil added that it was not just the academic aspects of the trip that he enjoyed: “Meeting people from other schools who had won the competition was very cool, talking about their school and just meeting new people in general. And then the residency itself – living with our friends – was very fun and the responsibilities of living without parents to help was a big realisation.”

The competition to secure their places involved completing four STEM tasks relating to: decryption/encryption; reconnaissance; creating a CAD model, and creating a team presentation.

Organised in partnership with TA Education, the camp was sponsored by Northrop Grumman – a huge American defence and aerospace company formed by Northrop Aircraft’s 1994 acquisition of Grumman Aerospace, which built the Apollo programme’s lunar module.

The boys stayed with chaperones and followed a course delivered at both the RAF Museum and RAF Cosford by: the museum’s STEM Ambassadors; industry experts from Northrop Grumman; TA professionals and RAF STEM personnel.


Hisham’s star performance in space competition

QE pupil Hisham Khan has been named the UK winner of an international space competition and reached the top 5% of competitors from around 100 nations across the world.

In addition to taking first place in the UK, Hisham, who goes into Year 11 this week, won a Gold Honour in the International Astronomy and Astrophysics Competition for his performance internationally.

Other awards in the competition went to Shreyas Mone, who is entering Year 12, and to Queen Elizabeth’s School itself.

Assistant Head (Pupil Involvement) Crispin Bonham-Carter said: “Competitions are an excellent way of challenging pupils to give of their best and learn more about a field in which they are interested. My congratulations go to Hisham on his success – a reward for all the hard work he put in.”

The International Astronomy and Astrophysics Competition (IAAC) is a science competition that attracts thousands of competitors annually.

To achieve his success, Hisham had to negotiate the qualification round (five astronomy problems) and pre-final round (six problems, two of which involve engaging with recent scientific research). These, he says, mostly involved Physics calculations relating to space.

The final round, a multiple-choice online examination with 20 questions, was more about astrophysics knowledge. To prepare, he looked at previous years’ questions and also read around the subject. The round was sat online at home, but recorded to prove there had been no cheating.

Hisham, who hopes to take Mathematics and Physics at A-level after his GCSEs next year, plans to maintain his interest in astrophysics.

In announcing the results, a representative of the IAAC team said Hisham had “achieved outstanding results throughout the tournament despite very fierce competition”.

Hisham himself was modest in victory: “This was a new topic, but one I find interesting. I was surprised to be the top performer in the UK, which went beyond what I was hoping for.”

The IAAC organisers also reward those who support the competition. Shreyas Mone, who is an IAAC ambassador, was the sole winner internationally of the Award for Most Finalists, while QE similarly took the sole School Award for Most Finalists.

QE robotics goes intercontinental

Robotics at QE went international as never before this summer, with no fewer than nine teams heading to the VEX World Championships in Texas and then, in the last week of term, a visit from the reigning senior Australian champions.

The six IQ (Year 8 and 9) and three VRC (Year 10) teams picked up a string of trophies in Dallas, while also taking time to sample the sights of the city.

Back in Barnet, the Australians’ visit was a meeting of champions, since the Australian VRC winners among the party from Barker College, Sydney, had the chance to rub shoulders with QE’s Team Nova, crowned at this year’s UK’s VRC national finals in Telford.

Head of Digital Teaching & Learning Michael Noonan said: “A last-minute opportunity arose to host the Australians, which gave talented robotics students from different sides of the world an opportunity to share ideas and best practice, and to plan for the season ahead in a symposium-style event.

“It was a great way to end a year which has seen large numbers of our boys take part in regional, national and international events, enjoying great experiences and achieving some notable triumphs, including Team Nova winning the UK tournament championship.

“2022–2023 was also a year of firsts: it included a visit in the spring to the inaugural VEX Robotics Signature Event in Las Vegas (attended by our Year 12 squads unable to attend the World Championships because of their Summer Term public examinations), and our teams being named winners or runners-up in nine separate VEX Robotics Online Challenges – which made QE the most successful organisation in the world in this format.”

The 60-strong group of 15–17 year-old Australians called in during their trip to London and Paris. Their school, Barker College, is a large, high-achieving independent school on the North Shore of Sydney.

In a message to the School before the visit, Barker College Design & Technology teacher Kevin Jones wrote: “Our teachers and students can’t get their heads around the fact you were founded in 1573!” This, he pointed out, was fully 200 years before Captain James Cook became the first European to sail along the Eastern coast of Australia.

At the World Championships in Dallas, the younger QE boys’ trophy haul included a trio of awards for Team Gearsquad and a Create Award for Year 8’s TechnoGear.

At the senior level, the 19 VRC competitors collectively came away with six awards, including an Inspire Award and the Promote Video Online Challenge Award.  Two of the three teams – Nova and Shattersquad – battled through tough early competition and successfully made it through to their divisional knockout stages.

During their time in Dallas, QE pupils: visited attractions including the Illusion Museum and Dallas Aquarium; paid their respects at the John F Kennedy memorial site (the US President was assassinated in Dallas in 1963), and enjoyed the spectacular views from the top of the iconic Reunion Tower.


Entrepreneur Arian passes on lessons from Silicon Valley

3D printing entrepreneur Arian Aghababaie, co-founder of California-based Holo, shared insights into the latest developments in additive manufacturing and gave advice on engineering careers when he led two inspirational events at QE during a visit to the UK.

After working for global software firm Autodesk, based in San Francisco, Arian (OE 1998–2003) raised venture capital and successfully spun out its additive manufacturing team to form Holo, while also transitioning its technology from the 3D printing of polymers to metals. Six-and-a-half years later, Holo is at the forefront of innovation, using its proprietary digital platform to enable the manufacturing at scale of high-performance parts across a range of materials, including metals, ceramics and composites. Holo is supported by top-tier Silicon Valley investors and strategic partners.

Arian’s morning at QE began with a tour of the School, before he led a Sixth Form additive manufacturing workshop, with five of QE’s own 3D printers on hand. Later, he delivered a lunchtime talk, giving his take on careers in engineering and 3D printing.

Head of Technology Michael Noonan said: “Arian provided Year 12 with a workshop which firstly covered his professional journey to date, from his early days post PhD working on founding his own company (The Invention Works) through to his position as Senior Principal Engineer at Autodesk. Most of the workshop, however, focussed on his current company, Holo. He explained that he and the other co-founders could see the enormous potential to create a viable business in this area and so pursued it as an opportunity.”

Arian went on to explain the details around the scale of production, the materials used and the fidelity of the products which Holo’s machines can make through its own PureForm Technology.

“His technologies have a unique advantage over competitors, and he works with many major companies in the healthcare, consumer electronics, robotics, and automotive sectors, to name a few,” said Mr Noonan.

He even set the Year 12 boys a challenge to develop a product using QE’s own 3D printers. They should design (and perhaps build) a scaled-up, minimally invasive surgical instrument. His requirements were that:

  • The instrument should have six degrees of freedom
  • It should be able to be cable or gear-driven
  • The boys’ work should include the design of at least two custom end-effectors (the devices at the end of a robotic arm, designed to interact with the environment)
  • They should determine its size and features based on the capabilities of their own printers.

Bonus points were offered for the designs with the fewest components and if the end-effectors could be easily changed within the same clevis pin (part of a fastener system)!

Two examples of the boys’ work in response to the challenge are shown here.

In the lunchtime talk to Year 10, Arian took a more personal look at his story, beginning with his time at QE, when he was in Stapylton House and was a musician and prefect.

After first presenting a version of his life which had him gliding seamlessly from his first engineering degree at Bristol to gaining his doctorate, also at Bristol, moving to San Francisco in 2016 and then founding Holo the following year, he next spoke about “what it’s actually been like” – a narrative that includes leaving QE early, dropping out of university, the financial crash and the huge impact of Covid.

The lessons he learned included “stay true to your authentic self” and “don’t fear failure”.

The visit came about after Headmaster Neil Enright struck up a conversation with Arian on LinkedIn.

Mr Noonan said: “It really was a tremendous day. One of the boys involved said to me afterwards: ‘Sir, are you aware that Arian is working in the job we all dream to have one day?’ I am immensely grateful to Arian for taking the time to give back to his School and for giving our students something amazing to aspire to.”


Reclaiming the crown: senior robotics team takes the title at Telford

As many of QE’s Vex robotics teams pit themselves against the best on the planet this term at the world championships in Dallas, the senior boys in the VRC competition are celebrating strong performances at their national finals.

This year, QE sent six teams to the VRC National Championships at Telford International Centre for the first time. With six junior teams also making the journey, Queen Elizabeth’s School had more teams at the national finals than any other organisation.

Head of Technology Michael Noonan said the senior teams headed for Telford with the feeling that a national championship might be on the cards for the first time since 2020 – and so it proved! After the tough final stages, Year 10’s Team Nova duly took the crown.

“Our Nova team did tremendously well. They started very strongly out of the blocks, then slipped down the rankings on day two, before coming back strongly and mustering a great performance in the final to clinch the title,” said Mr Noonan. “My congratulations also go to our other senior performers, who include those in Year 12 who did well, but are unable to go to the world championships because of this term’s public examinations.”

The QE boys benefitted from the support of corporate sponsor, Kingston Technology, sporting QE hoodies bearing the Kingston logo.

Nova competed along with three other Year 10 teams – Typhoon, Oblivion and Shattersquad – and two Year 12 teams, Hybrid and Tempest.

The teams were split evenly between the Lovelace and Brunel divisions in the competition at Telford. While the older teams struggled a little, not least because of problems caused by some last-minute adjustments, Nova and Typhoon began well.

On day two, some high-scoring losses sent Nova and Hybrid down the rankings, but Nova, together with Team Tempest, managed to consolidate their positions in the Skills challenge, with the former finishing second and Team Tempest climbing to fifth.

At the conclusion of the divisional group stages, Team Nova were fourth in the Brunel division. QE’s best performance in the Lovelace division came from Typhoon, who were fifth.

As the final stages progressed, high-performing QE sides found themselves facing each other, with Typhoon defeating Shattersquad in a Lovelace quarter-final and Nova beating Hybrid in a Brunel semi-final.

“This paved the way for teams from QE to participate in both divisional finals, and the real possibility of an all-QE national final between the winners in each division,” said Mr Noonan.

It was not to be, however. After a complicated series of events started when illegal parts were spotted on another team’s robot, Typhoon had to battle against the disadvantage of having to disable part of their own robot. They fought bravely alongside their alliance partner, but in the end, lost their deciding game by a single point, 133-134. “Divisional runners up, their pride was still intact and they learned a great deal from this experience,” said Mr Noonan.

Nova and their alliance partner had a tough final, but having won their first match 153-143, they went on to a final score of 195-143 to secure the much-coveted national championship. Nova also took a Build award and Hybrid a Design award.


Learning from leaders at Amazon, “diving deep into careers in the cloud”

A group of sixth-formers enjoyed the privilege of a special day at the Shoreditch offices of Amazon Web Services, where leaders shared their insights into the fast-moving technological world they inhabit.

The boys were special guests at one of AWS’s monthly re:Purpose days, on which AWS staff are encouraged to get involved in projects and initiatives outside of their normal day-to-day work.

Ben Moss, from the Digital Native & Enterprise Software and Software as a Servicer (SaaS) Team at AWS, said: “The theme of this re:Purpose day was collaboration, so I teamed up with the Queen Elizabeth’s School to deliver an Amazon insight day for several of their students. We heard from our AWS leadership, solutions architect, graduates and apprentices, all who shared their insightful experiences within AWS.”

Praising the QE group for their preparation and commitment, Mr Moss said it had been a “brilliant day for all”.

AWS is a subsidiary of Amazon. It offers hundreds of paid-for web-based products and services to individuals and organisations.

Enterprise Business Development Representative, Ella Cooper, who organised the day, together with her colleague, Juste Mena, said the day had seen the QE visitors “diving deep into careers in the cloud”.

The boys were able to see for themselves the potential of AI. One undoubted highlight of the day was a machine-learning live demo, including Amazon Rekognition, its SaaS platform that developers can use to add image and video analysis to their applications. The QE group saw it used to identify the features of familiar neighbourhoods and of celebrities.

They also heard from Senior Manager Joe Welton and Solutions Architect, Jack Bark.

Stephanie Tomlinson, QE’s Assistant Head of Technology, said: “Interestingly, Joe and Jack had shared aspects to their career pathways. Both spoke about the series of fortuitous moments which have led to their impressive and meaningful roles within AWS, highlighting to our pupils the reason we should use and follow our gut instinct!”

Thanking the team at AWS and praising the “seamless delivery” of the day, she said the boys had benefitted from a memorable experience: “Particular themes and lessons included the importance of mindset, attitude and establishing common ground. AWS is meritocratic, rewarding dynamic individuals who show skill and a strong emotional intelligence.

“Our boys undoubtedly took away a great deal – particularly the importance of learning and being curious.”

QE the best in the world!

Queen Elizabeth’s School was the most successful organisation in the world in this year’s VEX robotics Online Challenges.

Having already achieved significant successes in recent years at in-person regional, national and international Vex championships – including a world title in 2018 – QE’s robotics teams have recently added online competitions to their repertoire.

And now that the results are in for the 2022–2023 Online Challenges, it is clear just how strong their performances have been: QE has been informed that its teams were either winners or runners-up in nine separate challenges, with seven first places.

Not only do the winning teams receive cash prizes, they also gain automatic qualification for this season’s VEX Robotics World Championship in Dallas, USA.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “By any standards, these are fantastic results, and that is reflected in the fact that QE is the highest-achieving school or other organisation globally this year.

“My warm congratulations go to all the boys who took part and to our Head of Technology, Michael Noonan, and his team for the work they did in preparing them.”

Nine QE teams were named among the top places in 13 competitions, six of them at junior (VIQC) level and seven at senior (VRC) level.

One VRC squad – team number 20785X – was named winner of both the Theme It Up! Challenge and the Community Challenge, as well as being a runner-up in the Career Readiness Challenge. Another, 20785C, took two runner-up spots.

At junior level, 21549A was a double winner, taking the top spot in both the VIQC Career Readiness Challenge and the STEM Research Project.

Here are some examples of what the challenges involved:

  • VRC and VIQC Career Readiness Challenge: entrants had to explore the way in which professionals in a specific career or company use and document the steps of the engineering design process. The challenge information stated: “We want you to explore a possible future career, and discover the similarities and differences in how that prospective career and VEX Robotics teams use and learn from the process of engineering design.”
  • VIQC STEM Research Project: this involved exploring nature’s patterns and using that knowledge to engineer a new solution to a current problem.
  • VRC Promote Video Challenge: participants were asked to make a video promoting their experience with Vex Robotics. They were invited to “show us who you are, who you aspire to be, and what makes your team special and successful”.

Pictured here are some of the QE robotics teams on their travels during the regional rounds of this year’s domestic VEX competitions.


Vex in Vegas! Sixth Form robotics teams head stateside

Two Year 12 squads flew the flag for Britain when they fought against more than 100 competing teams in the Battle for Vegas – an inaugural Vex Robotics Signature Event in the desert resort.

The QE boys, who made up the only teams from outside North America to attend, enjoyed both the competition and the chance to take in Las Vegas’s spectacular attractions.

QE’s team Tempest finished their first day unbeaten, despite some daunting opposition, while team HYBRID struck up a strong relationship with an American partner team on day 2. In their time off, the sixth-formers revelled in the technical and architectural wonders on, around and even under the city’s glittering streets.

Head of Technology Michael Noonan, who accompanied the boys together with Technology teacher James Howard, explained that since the annual Vex Robotics World Championships in the US fall in the Summer Term, boys in years with public examinations are unable to attend. Instead, their teachers looked into suitable US-based Signature Events, which are events designed to provide competition at a level above that typically experienced at regional competitions. The QE teams, who are sponsored by Kingston Technology, opted for the one based at the Westgate Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas – the venue where, in July 1969, Elvis Presley performed two shows a night, seven days a week.

After their ten-hour flight from Heathrow, the AS students first replenished their strength at the Peppermill Restaurant, made famous as the backdrop of films and TV shows including Casino, The Cotton Club, and CSI: Vegas.

They then made their way along Vegas’s celebrated Strip. “One highlight in particular was The Venetian – a resort and hotel, which boasts an indoor network of Venice-style canals, complete with singing gondola drivers!” said Mr Noonan. Further down the street, they took in the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign and marvelled both at the water & light show at the fountain of the Bellagio and at the incredible complexity of the part-roller coaster, part-hotel New York New York attraction. “Racking up close to 30,000 steps over the course of the day was not enough, though, as the pupils made their way to the Area 15 entertainment complex, wondering at many of the audio-visual wonders on offer, and at the surreal Omega Mart [an exhibition billed as ‘an interactive, mind-bending immersive art experience’].”

After an early start the following morning – and a swift present-buying visit to the World’s Largest Gift Shop – the boys began preparations for their first formal day of competition. They started setting up their pit area, fine-tuning their build process and rehearsing their pro-programmed routines.

This day also brought a highly exclusive trip to the cutting-edge loop underground public transport system at the Las Vegas Convention Center created by Elon Musk’s The Boring Company. “The students were able to see state-of-the-art engineering developments, many of which are too secretive to even photograph!” said Mr Noonan.

After this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the boys returned to their robotics, making final preparations for the following day of qualification, as well as taking part in some impromptu practice sessions. “As the only overseas team at the event, the other 100 or so US, Canada and Mexico-based teams were very eager to get to know the QE teams, with lots of potential alliance links formed,” said Mr Noonan. They topped off the day with a visit to the “incredible” High Roller observation wheel at The LINQ Hotel – a 550ft wheel offering breath-taking views over the Strip.

“On the first day of competition, team Tempest had, in keeping with their name, a storming day, despite their division featuring some of the world’s finest teams. They finished the day with a perfect record of five wins, leaving them ranked fifth in their division of 61 teams.”

Things proved a little tougher for team HYBRID, with last-minute fixes and alterations at times resulting in inconsistent robot performance. “However, they toughed it out and managed to finish the day with a record of three wins and two losses,” said Mr Noonan.

With little time to catch their breath, the teams were then off to Battlebots Arena – a permanent area purpose-built to showcase the highly popular Battlebots television show, yet featuring live robotic action. “They were thrilled to see famed robots from the television series, including Witch Doctor, Kraken, Mammoth, HyperShock and Whiplash. At the end of the event, they took photos with some of the engineers and team representatives, gaining an insight into the lives of professional robotic engineers.”

After their disappointments on day 1, team HYBRID began day 2 still determined to finish in the automatic alliance spots in their division. “They succeeded in doing so, finishing the qualification section ranked 21st, and allying with team 3303S Dublin Robotics from Dublin, California,” said Mr Noonan. “They built up a great relationship with them through collaboration and discussion over the two days and were always likely to pick this team. Sadly, there was further disappointment for them, as they were cruelly denied by disqualification on a technicality in their round-of-16 game.”

Having remained unbeaten in the early stages of competition, team Tempest did finally succumb to their only loss of the tournament, and finished the day ranked 13th. “They chose Team Fizzy, a former World Championship challenger from Omaha, Nebraska, and were unfortunate not to progress past the round of 16, following a loss caused by robot malfunction.”

The boys took in the overall finals, witnessing the “incredible consistency” of the eventual champion teams, Gears from Martinsville, Indiana, and Pink Sparklee Unicorns from Woodbridge, Virginia. “They managed to grab a photo with the champion teams – gaining some essential advice on how to continue to improve.”

As they got ready for their return flight, the QE teams were visibly exhausted, but were already planning that, after a short break, they would be preparing to go into battle once again, their sights set on a first QE VEX Robotics Championship win in three years, Mr Noonan said.