Profile: Clague Middle School’s Tanay Panja is programming a bright future  

Tanay Panja has an almost relentless passion and eagerness to learn. And once you have that plug-in locked into your hard drive, you can pretty much log into any future you want to program for yourself.

Tanay, a 12-year-old seventh grader at Clague Middle School, isn’t your typical middle schooler.

Sure, he likes playing Minecraft, eating tacos and playing tennis, but he’s logged into technology and all its components with his eyes wide open and his heart beating with every click of the mouse.
When he reaches his goals, accomplishes a task or wins an award, his brain clicks on the “what’s next” software and he’s off on another adventure.

Having that thrill-to-learn gene in your DNA can certainly take you places, and Tanay – even though he’s only 12 years old – has already visited some special places and accomplished a few impressive tasks.

When asked if he misses school, Tanay says, “Yes, I miss not being able to go to school. I can’t meet my friends, and I miss being able to sit down at my desk and learning something new.”

Team Tanay Panja from Clague Middle School took first place last year in the Junior Exhibition at the Lawrence Technological University’s Robofest 2020 World Championship. Teams from Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, South Africa, and Taiwan, along with Michigan, Illinois, and Kansas in the United States, were crowned winners.

Robofest, started by LTU computer science professor C.J. Chung in 1999, was the only robotics world championship held in 2020because its organizers were able to shift its various games and competitions to an all-online format. Teams followed the Robofest rules, and local judges sent scores and videos to LTU, where the scores were verified to determine the winners.

This year, 153 teams comprised of 350 students competed in 13 age divisions and six competition categories. Competitions were held weekends from Aug. 28 through Oct. 10.

Team Tanay Panja’s project was a Raspberry pi based access control using machine learning, image recognition for autonomous delivery robots.

Tanay already knew Python (an interpreted, high-level and general-purpose programming language that emphasizes code readability with its notable use of significant whitespace) from taking high school courses. The program he wrote for the Robofest 2020 was written in Python.

“The best thing about participating at these competitions is seeing the works and code of other teams and programmer, most of whom are far better than myself,” says Tanay. “I searched for some magical powers that made them great but I did not find anything. The key to their success was simply years of training, dedication and hard work.”

Tanay says he likes problem solving and learning new technologies.

“I first started programming when I was 9 years old for first Lego league and started with learning programming LEGO block programming,” he says. “I also participated in World Robot Olympiad (WRO). I won the Lego educational creativity award with my team of three students at international level in 2018. That boosted my interest in programming even more.”

This was his third year participating in Robofest and WRO. He took high school level Python programming in 2019 which was offered through Ann Arbor Public School’s online learning platform. He also participated in American Computer Science League, with two other students from Clague Middle School.

In the summer of 2020, Tanay took a Machine Learning summer camp offered by Robofest and made a final project called Smart Shopper which was inspired by cashier-less shopping at Amazon Go and  got the second prize at the summer camp.

“This project used a camera, and machine learning with MIT’s Scratch,” he said. “I also participated and ranked in top 3 for programming at Science Olympiad events at elementary and middle school level. I am now interested in learning more about image recognition, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

“I want to develop an iOS app and I have some ideas for an app but I don’t know how to build it. So in my free time I am learning how to develop it using YouTube video tutorials. I have coached two elementary school teams for WRO and both teams have done very well at national level.”

Tanay also enjoys playing tennis and being a musician.

“It helps me relax and have fun while exercising,” he said. “I love playing the double bass! I got the first chair in an orchestra music competition, called All-State. I enjoy doing science so I’m in the National Science Bowl, which is a quiz-bowl-like competition, where they ask science questions of all disciplines.”