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How Tonsley has made this robotics club a smashing success

Zooper Dooper, lemon meringue, fabulous fairybread and smashed avocado.

They are foods – perhaps except for the avocado – that would tantalise the tastebuds of any teenager.

So, it’s unsurprising that they are also the names budding engineers at RoboRoos – South Australia’s Student Robotics Club – would give to their competition-ready robots.

Zooper Dooper’s pneumatically-powered arm can grip and carry items, hooked arms allow Smashed Avocado to rappel like a school student on monkey bars and Lemon Meringue can reach a top speed of 30km per hour. And just like Fabulous Fairybread, they are capable of firing balls through small targets.

Built in just 10 weeks, and combining old-school metalwork with software engineering, the machines represent not just the ingenuity and capability of youth, they also embody the entrepreneurial and collegiate spirit of Tonsley Innovation District that is inspiring future engineers.

The volunteer-run RoboRoos, meet weekly in Tonsley Innovation District’s Administration Building, drawing students as far as Gawler, 60km away, to share the passion of learning and making really cool machines.

The group’s purpose when it was founded in 2010 in the backyard shed of a founding member, was to excite young minds about STEM by using a common interest: robots.

Initially comprising five girls and five boys, RoboRoos today has 75 active members aged eight to 18 who compete in global competitions, administered by US-based youth organisation FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).

Competitions range from the entry-level Lego League up to the flagship First Robotics Competition (FRC) which requires students to design, build, and program a robot in the summer school holidays.

The FRC robots – Zooper Dooper and company – can cost upwards of $30,000 and must be built to complete a specific competition task, such as firing balls through a hoop or delivering items within a prescribed time.

“We went to our first formal FRC regional competition in Hawaii in 2013. We won the Allstars Rookie Award and went on to the world championships in St Louis, USA,” RoboRoos General Manager Fiona Mansfield said.

“From there we have grown every year and received multiple awards… and the FRC team has also been to the worlds a second time in Houston.

“The students show amazing growth. In particular, we focus on teaching the students how to work as a team and how to work with other students and adults from a wide age range and culturally diverse backgrounds.”

Crucial to the program’s success and student development is the support of industry professionals and mentors, including many from companies at Tonsley.

RoboRoos commercial mentor Peter Ryan-Kane said RoboRoos’ move to the Tonsley in September 2021 – after pinballing between warehouses and backyard sheds – had professionalised its operations and given students access to industry experts.

“Being at Tonsley has without a doubt enabled us to expand on our technical advisor group,” he said.

The club has forged strong ties with Tonsley partners including Micro-X, BAE Systems and SAGE Automation.

The support of these companies extends to manpower and mentoring support via the companies’ talented engineering workforce, while fellow Tonsley company Rockwell Automation provides crucial funding.

“We can ring Micro-X on a Monday and say, ‘we can’t make this inverter controller work’ and by Tuesday afternoon they have someone in our office providing support,” Mr Ryan-Kane said.

“They also have additional engineers assisting us with our builds over the summer and have dedicated engineers to support a satellite team at Murray Bridge.”

BAE Systems has been a “generous” financial supporter for many years, Mr Ryan-Kane said, but RoboRoos’ move to Tonsley strengthened the relationship.

“Now, we have even easier access to their 200 engineers with so much opportunity for immersion,” he said.

SAGE Automation’s head of innovation dedicated an entire weekend to helping students solder items on a robot.

“One of the benefits is the discussions that take place with the students while their engineers are helping us,” Mr Ryan-Kane said.

“It is incredibly powerful for our students to have a young engineer helping them; it means they are closer in age, and they can talk about how they got to where they are.

“This is one of the best examples of approachable and accessible modelling for our students.”

Ms Mansfield adds: “I cannot overstate how wonderful it has been to have a location like Tonsley. Being at Tonsley has allowed us to expand our ambition, as reflected in the expansion of programs last year.

“Tonsley has made us feel part of a bigger community of innovators, giving us exposure to so many companies and their staff that can inspire our students to work hard and see where that can take them.”

For more information about RoboRoos visit



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