Posted by Oliphant Science Awards

on 11/03/2021

by Glen Hutson

Do you know what makes the Programming, Apps & Robotics category different to all the rest?

It’s the interview!

Most years I meet with students as they demonstrate and explain their creations. The Oliphant rules ask that you come and show us how it works and often why it works by peeling back the layers, to expose the code and underlying technology.

Most students find this a little intimidating, asking...Will the judges be harsh? Can mum and dad bail me out if the questions get really hard?  What happens if my project breaks or crashes?

The interview is a learning experience, we are judging but also collaborating. In our 20 minutes together, we work to get the best from your project. We have fun and though mum and dad cannot help you out, we find ways to bring them into the conversation.

What we want to establish is:

  • Does your project achieve its aim?
  • Is it resilient?
  • Does it look good?
  • Is there any copied code?
  • Did you learn from the process?
  • Do you know how to improve the project?
  • Most importantly does it have a scientific basis?

What we hope to pass on:

  • Is your project successful and innovative?
  • Possible improvements
  • Quick tips on techniques. Languages, software tools etc.
  • Enthusiasm and guidance for future entries.

Here is an example of a great entry that benefited from the interview process.

An entrant submitted a program that modeled secure communications between two devices using encryption. The code was very well designed and written, but the encryption was unusual. The judges assumed the students knew about the popular RSA encryption, but when asked they did not, and after a quick knowledge transfer the team went off with new ideas and encouragement to submit a follow up the next year. Sure enough, 12 months later they returned with a winning entry based on RSA.

I think Programming, Apps & Robotics is the best category (and yes, I’m biased). You get instant, supportive feedback, we have fun, and your parents get to see you show off. What could be better? Oh! and when something goes wrong, we will be there to help you out. Having said that, there are disasters we can’t avert that happen every year, so remember:

  • Bring your completed paperwork, forms, code listing.
  • Check the rules and rubric.
  • Make sure the project has science content.

This last point is important. We ask that the coding part of the project also serves a scientific purpose. It is not enough that your robot walks and talks, but if it conducts an experiment then you’re talking. Check out these past winners. And here are examples of science content related to computing content.




Plant watering sensor

Effect of watering


Camera – video control

Animal Strides


Fixed point tracking



Lie Detector

Motivations for lying


Charge controller

Better battery charging


Thrust Controller

Model rocket


Turbidity measurement

Water quality monitor


Good luck with your project!

We are looking forward to meeting you and your ‘creation’ in the near future.


Glen Hutson has been a judge of the Programming, Apps & Robotics category of the Oliphant Science Awards for 10 years.

You can view all the 2020 Programming, Apps & Robotics winning entries here.