VIACHA, Bolivia – A passion forged in childhood, which at first seemed transitory but now has become serious, had led a team of two young men and their teacher from a school in Bolivia’s altiplano to compete in – and win – an international robotics contest in Madrid.
Nelson Sirpa, 17, and Ivan Encinas, 15, along with their 25-year-old teacher Alvaro Flores, took first place at the Minesweepers 2018 International Competition held in early October in Madrid with their light, agile and all-terrain robot prototype.
The teens are students at Jose Ballivian High School in Viacha, a city on Bolivia’s high plateau 28 kilometers (17 miles) from La Paz.
In remarks to EFE, Flores – who teaches robotics at the school – mentioned that taking the prize at the competition requires “having the training and also the experience” to get involved in the first place.
The contest challenge was to detect the greatest number of antipersonnel mines randomly located in an irregular zone 40 square meters (17,213 square feet) in size with a robot designed and built by the participating teams, he said.
“The robot must be fast, you only have 15 minutes to scour that entire 40 sq. meters of the minefield,” said Flores, who – in addition to being a teacher – is an electrical engineer and guided the team.
The winning prototype was built in two weeks from plastic tubes and wood, weighs 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds), is equipped with a special sensor and can move at 2.4 meters (8 feet) per second, Flores said.
Sirpa discovered robotics was his passion when he was just 8 years old and liked to “take things apart” at his house to learn how they worked, and now he will receive a scholarship to continue studying what he loves, including exploring the entire field of prosthetics to help people who have lost limbs.
Meanwhile, Encinas told EFE that it was four years ago that he decided to focus on robotics because “it helps society.”
The Bolivian government recognized the teens’ achievement at a public ceremony and the boys’ relatives said that Sirpa and Encinas got the chance to “shake hands” with the country’s top officials.