Building a robot is hard. Now try doing it over Skype.
A group of Iranian teenagers was accepted to compete in the the FIRST Global Challenge, a robotics competition designed to encourage youths to pursue math and science, in Washington, D.C. this week.
But sanctions on their country blocked them from ordering parts from the United States. High schoolers from George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Virginia, stepped up to help, building their robot for them over Skype.
The American and Iranian high schoolers communicated for three months that way, with the Iranians sending sketches and diagrams so the American students could build their robot for them.
“Our main goal is to show the world that we can do everything we want, without paying attention to the political problems,” said Amin Dadkhah Tehrani, a 15-year-old from Iran. “We just want to show the world that science cannot be limited.”
For their first Skype session, the Iranians stayed awake until 2 a.m. to accommodate the nine-hour time difference.
“That was just kind of crazy,” said Kirstin Springer, a member of the Virginia team. “We are talking to people all the way on the other side of the world, who have such different life experiences than us.”
The Virginia team's captain volunteers at NOVA Labs, a programming and engineering space in Reston, Virginia. She connected with FIRST Global leaders there, who asked her team to help the Iranians.
Nearly 160 teams from around the world are competing Sunday through Tuesday in the FIRST Global Challenge. They face off against each other using unique robots built from a uniform kit, packed by FIRST Global with gears, pulleys and more.
Not every Iranian student spoke English, so they relied on a few to translate their designs for the Virginia students.
“It was a trusting experience for all of us,” Tehrani said. “That was the first time we’ve done something like this. We make their ideas better, they make our ideas better.”
Tehrani and two teammates made it to D.C. to compete. A fourth classmate couldn't make the trip.
Team Iran is competing against teams from India, Vietnam and Austria, among others.