Dimona teenagers win 4th place overall for Israel in robotic Olympics

Team Israel faced energy challenges; at one point allied with Syrian refugee team.

Team Israel celebrates victory in the arena where the challenge took place.  (photo credit: COURTESY OF ITAY TURGEMAN)
Team Israel celebrates victory in the arena where the challenge took place.
A team of high school students from the city of Dimona in the Negev Desert won fourth place while representing Israel in an international robotics competition last week in Mexico City.
The team from Dimona’s Lehman High School, which calls itself ‘Black Magic 11901,’ sent twelve participants to the FIRST Global Challenge, an annual competition where nearly 200 teams from around the world power through challenges using robots built before the competition. ‘FIRST’ is an acronym for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”.
Black Magic 11901 was paired with teams from China and Kiribati on the last day of the competition, the team said in a Facebook post, after losing 2 out of 3 games on the competition’s first day but winning 3 out of 4 on the next day. In addition to scoring fourth place with China and Kiribati, the Dimona team also won the bronze in the ‘International Unity’ competition and a ‘Safety Award.’
“We are so happy and satisfied with the results we achieved at the end of the competition – and of course with the fact that we represented Israel in the best way that we could do!” the team said in a statement on their Facebook page after the competition ended.
Itay Turgeman, who served as the team’s mentor, wrote to The Jerusalem Post that Team Israel was one out of 48 different teams that competed on the last day of the challenge for first place, eventually losing to Romania.
“The experience itself is tremendous,” he said of competing in FIRST Global. “You get to know a lot of countries you never heard about before... We had a connection to a lot of groups and with the Mexican audience.”
Black Magic 11901 was chosen to represent Israel because of its “excellence in robotics, and we thought that it’s right to give them this honor,” Benny Kedar, who sits on the board of directors of FIRST Israel, told the Post by phone.
Kedar emphasized that after FIRST Israel selected the team, it operated independently, and the larger Israeli organization was not directly involved with their efforts or with the FIRST Global Challenge.
On its competition-website page, Black Magic 11901 wrote that its motto is: “If the sky is the limit, we want to reach the moon” and that the team believes that “through hard work and commitment to the goal, we can achieve everything we want… the FIRST Global Challenge’s missions make us think about the design and throw creative ideas [around] on how we are going to successfully complete tasks and get points for that.”
In a post on his Facebook page, Dimona mayor Benny Biton praised the team’s efforts and extolled Dimona as “a world power in robotics!”
The 3-day competition was run by FIRST Global, a US-based organization that encourages science-based problem solving. It organizes the annual robotics competition to “ignite a passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics… among the more than two billion youths across the world,” according to its website.
FIRST Global has been running the competition for two years now (independently of other FIRST competitions that have been running for longer), and counts Qualcomm, Intel, and Disney among its sponsors. Last year’s Team Israel in the competition was from Beersheva.
This year’s competition was themed around energy. In each match, two alliances of three teams competed against each other in challenges that included having to generate more “energy” than the other team, activating ersatz generators and moving around solar panels using their robots.
While the Israeli team was not paired with any teams officially representing other Middle Eastern countries for any of the qualification matches, where alliances and competitors were set up in advance, it did play and win a qualification match while allied with Team Hope, a group of refugees from Syria who currently live in Lebanon.
“After the game [with Team Hope],” Turgeman said, “we [all] hugged each other.”