1st Prize Winner - Ages 12-14 years

December 2023


Judges’ comments: The judges found this story to be so enjoyable. The idea was original, topical and humorous, and it made them laugh out loud!


What if... Robots

by J. Finch

Eric hummed as he drove home. The conference had gone better than he expected, he couldn’t believe how far technology had advanced. Banishing all thoughts of work, Eric watched as the car smoothly navigated the litter free road. The City of Unley was always so... clean. That was a big influence on his decision to move here. Splash! Eric frowned as he heard what sounded eerily like water, but it hadn’t rained for several days, right? He peered out of the window and was shocked to see an enormous puddle of water; it appeared the surrounding creek had flooded. Eric slowed the car down, crossing the puddle, before driving the rest of the way to his house, but as he fell asleep the flood drifted into the back of his mind.


Later, Eric had checked his emails to find a council summon. He was the local engineer and was often called upon to fix things. Eric went down to the creek where the council had called the meeting. “Hello Eric,” his friend, Bill, called “We have a problem.” But a lengthy explanation was not needed, for when Eric looked ahead, he saw the creek, well, the creek and a bunch of water. It looked like the creek was flooded, and this time floating in it was a lot of plastic wrappers. Bill who loved a long explanation, even an unnecessary one, was quick to explain when the creek flooded, it poured into a garbage dump, which had polluted the water and was spreading the rubbish around the neighbourhood, which is obviously a big problem. “We need you to build some sort of robot to clean up this mess.” Bill finished his long-winded explanation just as Eric rushed off.


The robots took a few weeks to make, and Eric was ecstatic. With waterproof shells that were strong enough to resist the power of the creek, hardy wheels, and full-proof plastic retrieval systems, these were sure to get the job done. Eric dropped the five robots to the flooded area. Later, he decided to visit the creek and see how things were going. Eric arrived to find sparkling clean water with not a piece of rubbish in sight. He walked closer, looking for the robots and almost lost his balance when the ground met him with a sudden slope. Strange. Eric had never realised that was here before. Either he was very unobservant, or something was going on. He peered closer, the hill had strange markings, like it had been scraped with a tool not designed to scrape things. Eric pondered this, his mind slowly formulating the answer until... The phone beeped angrily at him; Eric turned it on to find an urgent council message. Bill had disappeared.


What? Eric urgently replied, but he had not misunderstood anything, Bill has vanished, not seen for days and he’s not responding to any messages. Eric decided to help the council by walking around the neighbourhood and asking the locals for information. The first few people he visited weren’t helpful, everyone was either too busy, or didn’t have the foggiest idea who Bill was. Their answers ranged from “Oh Bill? He’s nice,” to “I am busy. Leave me alone.” to “I saw him! He was carried off by these strange metal things!” Eric was bothered by this last person, if you don’t have anything useful you don’t have to make up ridiculous stories about robots, he huffed to himself. Another thing he found irritating was the people he was talking to would often drone on about whatever they had last managed to misplace “I swear if I hear one last tale of a missing plastic phone case, or keys with little plastic name tags I am going to..!” Eric sighed, he wasn’t really angry, he just wanted his friend, and a fruitless search is very frustrating. “Excuse me,” a voice said, “You’re working with the council, right?” “Yes, do you have any information about Bill,” Eric said robotically. “No, I just wanted to say that a plastic slide in my yard is gone, and my children are inconsolable.  I think it must have been the council, please let them know?” the lady, Agatha, asked hopefully. “Will do.” Agatha nodded and walked off. Eric sunk further into the ground, what was with all of this? First Bill, then phone cases and keys, now a plastic slide. Wait plastic... OH NO. No no no, the robots. The plastic collecting robots.


“WAIT,” he called to Agatha, “I think I know where it is.” Together, they drove to the dump where the robots were leaving the rubbish.  Eric’s theory was proven correct, the robots had started collecting bits of plastic from the locals, but why was Bill here? Was he even here? “Hi Eric, looks like you figured out that that you robot can detect microplastics, even in people,” Bill greeted him, Eric could have slapped himself. Microplastics, of course, that explained the strange slope as well. “Come on, let's go,” Eric said. “I am afraid that won’t work,” was Bill’s reply “You see, each time I leave, the robots take me and anything else back here. We need to stop them. I don’t suppose you have a kill code.” Oops, was all Eric could say, “Anybody else have an idea?” Agatha did. “Do the robots contain any plastic?” Eric, who had caught her drift, nodded his mind churning. “I’ve got it,” he said, dumping various items into the car boot, “Hop in.” Eric started driving to the nature reserve. As soon as he arrived, he sped up, too fast for the robots, which had been trying to reclaim the rubbish to follow. In the absence of litter, the robots would try to dismantle the last trace of plastic, themselves. Eric threw the last robot piece into the dump, before returning the lost items to the locals, and the best thing? Eric’s program was used to help remove microplastics from water and other areas, deeming him a hero.