WEST ORANGE, NJ — As Golda Och Academy’s CodeRunners Robotics team approached the Leipziger Messe (Leipzig, Germany’s large conference center), the flags of many nations—including the USA, Israel and Germany—were waving in the wind.

After hard work, planning and a nine-hour flight, the high school robotics team arrived on a unique journey to represent the USA in the International RoboCup competition.  

The team—Aytan Geschwind, Alex Rothschild, Ben Soudry and Nadav Soudry—designed and built two robots that were programmed to play soccer autonomously against competitors in the RoboCup Junior Lightweight Secondary division. After winning in this division at the RoboCup USA competition at the Horace Mann School in the Bronx, NY in mid-April against other top private and public school teams, the four members of the RoboCup team qualified to represent the USA and compete internationally in Leipzig at the end of June.

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In just six weeks, the team and their friends raised funds for the trip by selling personalized 3D-printed phone cases, organizing robot soccer competitions during lunch and securing generous corporate sponsors. With much support from Golda Och Academy, the team made plans to head to Germany with Upper School Principal Ms. Christine Stodolski and three parent chaperones.

The Leipziger Messe, where the RoboCup world championship took place, was the size of more than six football stadiums. Overall, there were 3500 participants and 400 teams from 40 countries all working on the most advanced robotics in the convention center.

There were several different RoboCup leagues, including high school and university teams with various sizes and kinds of robots, even humanoid robots. Seeing these different robots truly expanded the horizons of the students and showed them new possibilities of what could be done in this field. 

For the CodeRunners in the RoboCup Junior Soccer Lightweight division, there were fierce matches against teams such as Slovenia, Taiwan and Germany, the second best team in the world. There were victories and defeats, including an especially exciting win against the Swiss team. 

The team created a poster detailing its robots and participated in an intense judges interview.  

During the Super Matches, GOA partnered with three other teams. This newly-formed, expanded team competed against four teams in one match each day as well as a final.  The USA CodeRunners were paired with teams from Taiwan, Germany and Great Britain.

This was an incredible exercise in collaboration as the teams shared parts, strategy and expertise.

Yet this remarkable experience included so much more than just exciting soccer matches and seeing state-of-the-art robots. The CodeRunners met up with four teams from Israel, including high school teams from Rehovot and the MetroWest Partnership 2000 city of Rishon L’tzion, south of Tel Aviv.  

The students and chaperones had the unique opportunity to make a minyan for a mincha service with the humanoid robotics team from Bar llan University in Tel Aviv.  The team formed an instant bond with these Israeli students and coaches and noticed that they were required to have security with them at all times.

Because of the team’s Shabbat observance, the team refrained from competing in any matches on Shabbat. One team from Manchester, England agreed to play the CodeRunners on Friday afternoon before sundown so that the didn’t miss that match.

Being in Germany for the first time for a Jewish day school team was heavy with meaning, remembering those who perished in the Holocaust. The team spent an evening visiting the Leipzig Holocaust Memorial—a plaza with 140 empty chairs representing the 14,000 Jewish residents of Leipzig who were deported to their deaths by the Nazis.

The RoboCup world championship lasted for five days with an awards ceremony on July 5, 2016. At the end of the competition, the CodeRunners ranked 13 out of 22 in their division and were one of only two teams to receive a special Robot Design award presented by the CEO of Flower Robotics of Tokyo, Japan.  

The team also received an invitation to visit the company headquarters should the students ever be in Tokyo. In addition, the team was recognized with the Team Spirit Award which was an exciting accomplishment! 

“The Robocup Junior Competition emphasized the importance of teamwork, the sharing of ideas and competition that supports learning and growth for all participants,” said Stodolski. “Our students thrived in this environment and represented the school with kindness, generosity of spirit and acumen. We are very proud of their accomplishments.” 

“Our recent trip to the international RoboCup competition in Germany involved putting all our hard work and effort from the past two years into overcoming new obstacles and trying to do the best we can while playing the greatest teams in the world," said team member Nadav Soudry. "Looking back on our trip, we learned so much, and we look forward to implementing all our new ideas.”  

Alex Rothschild added, “This trip was a great learning experience. Not only did I learn about working and trouble-shooting under pressure, but I also learned important lessons about cooperation with all different kinds of people. The trip was a cool opportunity to see the directions technology can take and get a glimpse of my possible future.”

Golda Och Academy acknowledged the generosity of its corporate sponsors who made this trip possible: Harrison Research Labs, Online Computing and Communications, and Richards Manufacturing. The school also thanks mentor and benefactor Dr Lynne B Harrison, STEM Coordinator Dr Shira Kelmanovich, Head of School Mr. Adam Shapiro and Dr. Arco Jeng, the CodeRunners’ robotics coach.  

For more information on the competition, visit http://robocup2016.org/en/.