TWI hosts successful robotics challenge for primary school pupils


A group of 46 children from Fulbourn Primary School’s Year 5 achieved a series of team successes as part of a robotics challenge event at TWI headquarters near Cambridge.

The Defect Detectives day, with a focus on using Lego MindstormsÒ EV3 robots to assess the integrity of welded joints, was organised by TWI in conjunction with Robogals and Cambridge Launchpad and as part of the government’s Year of Engineering programme.

For the nine small teams from Fulbourn Primary, the day began an introduction to engineering and a guidance session. Then, with a TWI expert on hand, the children began to design and build a mobile Lego robot capable of following a ‘weld line’ and spotting ‘defects’. The teams simulated their weld lines using black tape intersected with red tape for the defects.

One of the main activities at TWI is the essential process of inspecting weld lines in the build of a ship’s hull. Defects or flaws can occur in the joint line where two pieces of steel or aluminium have been welded together, and give ship fabricators and ship operators the reassurance that their vessel is safe to sail.

Each team made fantastic progress in the construction and programming of their robot, testing them at intervals to follow the line and stop at each defect before continuing to trace the route of the weld. They learned how to programme sensors in order to follow the path of the line, and to recognise and trigger a sound to announce the defects.

As part of the day, they also got the chance to a look at other technologies including water-repellent coatings, dry and wet adhesives, and the ever-popular Welding with Chocolate activity, where they could build and test the strength of a box-shaped bridge  – all made from bars of chocolate!

The final session of Defect Detectives saw the teams testing their machines on a specially made race track. TWI engineers, experts and staff gathered to watch the culmination of the children’s efforts in team-working and problem-solving. Scoring highest for mechanical design, programming and performance on the track was Team Lightning Bolt.

One Year 5 pupil said: ‘I’m having a really good day! The part I enjoyed most is being able to persevere when things in our team were not working. It has been challenging because we had to adapt our design through trial and error as we went along. I really like that boys and girls can work together because STEM is for everyone and today is definitely making me think more about it.’

Gabriela Gallegos Garrido, representing TWI and an ambassador for the global Robogals programme, said: ‘What really made my day is knowing the message we got across to the kids: that STEM is fun, being an engineer is fun, interesting and useful, but overall, that STEM is for everyone... including girls.’

Given the success of this first-ever defect detectives challenge, there is every chance that this entertaining and educational day will be repeated in the future.

For more information, or to learn more about TWI’s work in the wider community please contact us.


TWI is a world leading research and technology organisation with a focus on materials, engineering and manufacturing.