Government officials given a glimpse of "virtual search and rescue" at Adastral Park

UK Government Officials were given an insight into the high-tech world of ‘virtual search and rescue’ when they paid a fact-finding visit to BT’s main research and development centre, Adastral Park, Martlesham Heath in Suffolk. 

The visit included the chance to see one of the taster days that BT has been running for school children on a robotic programming competition. CoSpace, part of RoboCup Junior, is an initiative led by BT in the UK to promote the importance of computing skills in the school curriculum.
Teams have to program virtual robots in a rescue scenario, devising search strategies and trying to gain as many points as possible by finding coloured objects whilst avoiding traps and obstacles. The scenarios reflect the challenges faced by real-life search and rescue robots, for example finding people trapped in collapsed buildings. The virtual robots compete against each other and the clock to gain as many points as possible in the time allowed.
Nearly 650 school children aged between nine and 14 from more than 50 schools in Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk and even as far as London and Birmingham, attended a week of events giving them a chance to experience the software for the first time and compete in a friendly competition.
Jane Tory, assistant director, Digital Skills in the Government's Digital Economy Unit, who was one of the eight officials from a number of government departments attending Adastral to learn more about ways to tackle digital exclusion, said: “It was fantastic to see the children clearly enjoying themselves working out their search and rescue strategies and programming their robots to compete against each other. And it was great to see that more than half of the children were girls!”
Pam Popay, education engagement manager at Adastral Park, said: “We had some tremendous feedback from the schools that attended. The children are now really inspired to set up school activities and to carry on improving their robots ready to take part in the UK RoboCup Junior CoSpace competition next year.”
The national finals of the CoSpace competition are to be held at Adastral Park in March 2015, and give schools the chance to qualify for a place in the international finals, which are to be held in China.