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They are from the future: what is the NTI Olympiad, how to become its participant and win?


Schoolchildren from all over the country gathered in the final of the Olympiad of the National Technological Initiative (NTI) to reflect on the most pressing engineering challenges: they moved loads without human intervention, invented intelligent energy, created neuroprosthetics, sought a cure for cancer, grew a happy trout, designed underwater robots and launched satellites. The slogan of the NTI Olympiad is "We are from the future". Apparently, the XXI century promises to be an era of engineers.

"Engineers are real rock stars of the 21st century. Long ago, such a star was Leonardo da Vinci, and it was a real engineer, since he possessed the universal skills in all areas. Any problem that he saw was succumbed to him, as he was trying to find the right way to solve it, and if there was not a ready solution, he was giving birth to his own," said Grigory Bakunov, director of technology development at Yandex".

In his opinion, if the twentieth century was the century of scientists who immersed in a particular problem as much as possible, then the future is an era of people with engineering, and therefore, universal thinking. Thus, it can be said that at the end of February 2018 at Sirius Educational Centre, 360 future engineering rock stars — finalists of nine profiles of the NTI Olympiad — gathered (the total number of finalists this year is 578, and the total number of profiles is 17, their finals will be held on in the nearest future in different cities).

The slogan of the NTI Olympiad is "We are from the future". And most importantly, its difference from all the others is that the victory in it requires participants to have universal knowledge and different skills, including hands-on work: ability to solder or conduct laboratory tests. The tasks of each profile assume an inter-subject approach: for example, in order to successfully perform in the profile of the System for Communication and Remote Sensing of the Earth (Space Systems), one needs not only to know computer science and physics perfectly well, but also to be able to assemble an operating microsatellite model. This device should be able to navigate through magnetic, solar and stellar sensors and transmit large amounts of information to the station located on Earth.

That is why, almost half the success at the NTI Olympiad is about the right selection and smooth work of the team. This is a team Olympiad, and this distinguishes NTI from other competitions. And most often the teams are formed by the guys themselves, collecting like-minded people, for example, among classmates or colleagues in circles, tech parks for children “Quantoriums”, technological clusters and so on. And sometimes it happens that a team bands togenther in Internet, from different cities. This year, everyone was surprised by the guys who became winners in the profile "Creating Prosthetics Systems (Neurotechnologies)", where it was necessary to create a control system for the bionic prosthesis brush. The best among the ninth-graders was a team named NBK, consisting of seven-grader Daniil Novoselov and eighth-grader Olga Berezhnaya, who got acquainted in Internet and first met at the final.

In order to get to the finals of the NTI Olympiad, you must first pass an individual qualifying round. This year (and this is the third Olympiad, the first one was held in Orenburg in 2016), more than 20,000 applications were submitted from schoolchildren from the 7th to the 11th grades. The second stage is a team stage, but it is held online, as well. The participants are given a task which they are trying to solve together. For example, a team for the "Intelligent Energy Systems" profile where one should offer the most cost-effective solution for city energy supply should consist of a mathematician, a programmer, an economist and a physicist to win a tender and to program an intelligent power system. Otherwise, it is impossible to cope.

In the profile of "Big Data and Machine Learning", except someone who is proficient in math and programming, there is a need for someone who can understand medical problems. Here, the teams worked on the solution of the real problem, given by the Scientific Research Institute of Neurosurgery named after Burdenko. The data of 1,000 patients and 5,000 analyses were collected, on the basis of which two characteristics should be forecasted the most closely to reality: probability of the fact of remission and the average life expectancy of a patient. If earlier the accuracy of such a forecast was not more than 40%, then by the third day of the Olympiad the team-leader achieved the figure of 70%. In general, the tasks of this profile are traditionally mere real: in 2016, the Olympiad students worked on the instructions of social network “Odnoklassniki” ("Classmates") — they tried to calculate the enthusiasm of users on the information specified in their profile. Last year, with the help of Big Data, they solved a very humanitarian and even a romantic task: they analysed the diaries of the poets of the Silver Age and tried to give their portrait. As the General Director of the RVC Foundation (the organizer of the competition) — Alexander Povalko — says, it is these tasks that best convey the idea of the Olympiad, where a successful solution requires an interdisciplinary knowledge and the ability to work in a team.

In total, the educational centre Sirius was divided into nine polygons — the so-called sites where the participants work on the assigned tasks. And the development of tasks for the profiles involved in leading universities, large companies, corporations and start-ups. Among the organizers of the competitions are Moscow Polytechnic University, SPbPU, TPU, University of Innopolis, MIPT, NNIU MEPhI, MAI, ITMO University, FEFU, UrFU, SibSU named after M.F. Reshetnev, MISiS, MSTU named after N.E. Bauman, and SKFU. The partners of the NTI Olympiad profiles are also Sukhoi, UAC, Rosnano and so on. According to the developers, the most difficult thing is to cut off from the "real" technological task of what scientists, researchers and engineers are working on, something that the schoolchild, even the most ingenious, cannot do. In doing so, leave it, as they say, "on the edge." For example, participants in the "Nanosystems and Nanoengineering" profile have modified the bacteria so that they produce a plasmid — a small circular DNA. And this is what scientists are really doing today, trying, for example, to repair a broken retina due to the fact that the remaining cells begin to perceive light instead of dead specialized cells. On the profile of "Engineering biological systems", the ninth-graders were engaged in setting up the aquapon system: tried to make sure that the trout that lives in the same pool, and the salad that grows in the other, feel equally comfortable — this task has a great production potential. The 10-11 grades in the same profile were engaged in determining the key point mutations in the gene, progress in this area will allow to diagnose cancer before the first symptoms appear.

One of the most complex and entertaining profiles of the NTI Olympiad — Autonomous Transport Systems — consists of three stages. Complex logistics systems are "collected" here: an unmanned ship, a car and a quadrocopter must deliver goods to a remote area.

"This year, devices are guided by cameras - this is a "hot" topic in unmanned vehicles. This year, an unmanned vehicle was supposed to solve problems associated with the recognition of signs, and all three devices were guided by the graphical marks at the bench. The command-leader managed to fully accomplish the task of Aeronet, which was not given to the participants of the two previous finals. The Copter of the participants takes the goods from the launching point, precisely delivers to the destination, and then soars into the air. There was some white smoke, of course, as some components were burned. But much less than last year," Olga Shabalina, profile methodologist, teacher of the Moscow Polytechnical School of Engineering, says.

In addition, the Aerospace Engineering Laboratory of Moscow State University, Education of the Future, Copter Express and SkolTech have worked on the profile.

The NTI Olympiad is included in the State list of competitions, which means that the winners will receive 100 USE points, the opportunity to enter the leading technical universities of the country and other preferences.

However, as the participants say, points are not what they come here for. To be among the peers, to communicate with each other, with the representatives of the universities where they are going to study and the companies where they will work on real projects very soon, is an invaluable experience that the NTI Olympiad gives. It is important that it is open to all, the opportunity to join is everywhere where there is the Internet and people with "engineering thinking", that is, future engineering "rock stars".

"Every time we change the task, trying to catch the balance between complexity and what the children can do. All the same, sometimes we overdo it or, on the contrary, it turns out too easily, after all, until the very end, it is not clear, how all will go, and the teams become stronger every year. The main thing for victory is a good preparation and a well-coordinated team. There are a lot of nuances in our profile, errors happen at different stages and, if you've never done it before, it will not work out all. It is important that there are people in the team who know how to solder, design and program, and who know the physics. It's impossible to complete this task in four days: if we place an adult team here, it will make mistakes, too. But the obvious leaders — a team from Kaliningrad — won not by chance, they are engaged in the "Quantorium", a good preparation is seen.

We bring up systemic understanding in participants. It is not necessary that everyone becomes an engineer, but they should understand that there are systems and they are connected in very different places; therefore, physics always clings to engineering, engineering clings to "soft skills" and so on. In addition, they need to feel the team, the environment that is around them. By the way, we notice that the teams do not conflict with each other, they are fighting against the test site, and not against each other."

devochka.jpgAnna Syromyatnikova,
ATS profile, Maximum1111, Zheleznogorsk
"Last year I also participated in the NTI Olympiad, also in the ATS profile. This is one of the most complex profiles, because it is the most multitasking. This is not taught at school: programming, assembly, and soldering. Members of the team are responsible for their apparatus and their business — I do not solder very well, but I program and collect quite well.

By the way, before I came here last year, I was not very interested in programming; I began to go to the circle for the company, to the finals I got by accident, because I used to be engaged in physics. Moreover, when I got here, I was seriously carried away: The full-time finale is very different from the correspondence stages: here you do something that you have never done before in your life and you get a result - it's very inspiring. At this Olympiad, you do not feel competition with other teams, rather, it's fighting against the hardware — you need to assembly and program it. However, when we see that we are getting something, this adds excitement. I did not come here to get 100 points, the programming is just a hobby for me, I'm more interested in mathematics. I think I'll enter a Moscow university — the Higher School of Economics or the Plekhanov University. But it's very interesting here."
kirillov.jpgKonstantin Kirillov,
a team coach from Zheleznogorsk
"Actually, I work in JSC ISS named after Academician M.F. Reshetnev" , the leading enterprise in Russia for the creation of space communication devices, we produce 85% of all satellites in our country. As for classes with children, it may be said that is my hobby. In 2016, I was at Orlyonok schoolchildren camp at the first NTI Olympiad, and I really enjoyed it. Then we found the two strongest schools in Zheleznogorsk, and on their basis the course "Experimental Physics and Robotics" was opened. All schoolchildren of the city can go there. We buy the right equipment, fortunately, now it can be bought on the Internet inexpensively and in large quantities. This year, only three teams competed on the ATS profile.

I like that at the NTI Olympiad, children are given specific tasks that are somehow connected with real companies, with business, and promising directions. Sometimes, the guys "generate" interesting ideas and it’s very curiously to observe this I would like something similar for adult teams."
pobedit.jpgKirill Grinchenko
and Alexey Dubinin, the winners of the ATS profile, the team "47ds-ds46", Kaliningrad
"The main preparation for the NTI Olympiad is self-education. Quantorium gives us only equipment. When we decided to participate in the Olympiad, we came and asked for what we need to prepare, we were given everything we needed. In terms of distribution of roles in the team, everything turned out by itself. Conditions, tasks that they give, they are quite understandable if you were engaged. You just need to concentrate, remember Arduino, and calmly do, solve the problem. We had an informatics teacher who first tried to interest us, push us to do more. And then, when the school curriculum was not enough, we began to do it ourselves, in addition. The engineer must be able to work with his hands, we have problems with this — we have to do this. But in general the main thing about the victory is your interest and your will."

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