Pupils at a Stanley school have been doing well in a national robot-building contest. Two teams of year eight and nine pupils from Tanfield School, near Stanley, have finished first in their regional heats in the Vex Robotics Competition.
The pupils, who were asked to make robots capable of throwing objects, worked on their designs in their spare time.
The heats took place at the Gateshead College Skills Academy for Sustainable Manufacturing and Innovation, which is based at the Nissan plant, in Washington.
The Tanfield School pupils will now go forward to the national finals of the Vex Robotics Competition, which will be held at the NEC in Birmingham.
Mr Paul Carr, who is head of design technology at Tanfield School, said, “They have worked hard and I am really proud of them.”
“They are the north east regional champions and that is two years in a row that Tanfield has won the tournament trophies.”
If experts in artificial intelligence are right, Tanfield School’s pupils could be learning skills that will set them up well for the future.
A piece of research by the McKinsey Global Institute released in January suggests that 50% of today’s workplace activities could be automated by 2055. With almost every tech company and car manufacturer developing driverless vehicles, hotels experimenting with robot butlers and Amazon having just made its first delivery to a customer using an unmanned drone, it seems Tanfield’s pupils could well inherit a world in which a partly robotic workforce will be the norm.
And it’s not just manual or routine jobs that could soon be done by robots and computers. Robots have written newspaper articles on business and sport, replaced lawyers in contesting parking tickets, and been used to teach English in Korea and Japan. Meanwhile a hedge fund has developed an algorithm to carry out many management functions like the hiring and firing of workers.
However, it’s unlikely that robots will replace human workers completely. Michael Jones, assistant professor of economics at the University of Cincinnati, said, “Automation can not only create advantages for society as a whole, but for individual workers if they can retool their skills and use technology to complement their job, not replace it.”
“I believe for the most part people (will still) value the human touch.”
If the Tanfield School teams triumph in the national finals in Birmingham, they will be invited to take part in the world championships in Kentucky, in April. However, Mr Carr says that, to be able to afford to go, the pupils will need financial help with equipment and travel expenses.
If you would like to sponsor the pupils, you can call Tanfield School on 01207 232 881.