United States ambassador Mark Gilbert challenged a robot to a game of catch at the House of Science yesterday.
Mr Gilbert was visiting the House of Science and met with its robotics team, who are travelling to the United States at the end of the month for the Vex World Robotics Competition.
Read more: Students' robot to take on the world
Samuel Gillies-Smith, 14, Kate Low, 17, Dean Strydom, 17, and Callum McLeod have spent the last 11 months building their robot for the competition, tweaking it until it could expertly pick balls up from the ground and throw them into a net.
When Mr Gilbert saw a demonstration of the robot's skills, he challenged it to a throwing competition - losing by just one ball.
Robots were a feature of Mr Gilbert's visit to Tauranga - when he visited Zespri, he discovered the progress being made in having robots picking and packing kiwifruit. Robots meant a business could run for 24 hours, efficiently.
Therefore, the House of Science students were learning a valuable skill. "[Robotics] is going to be critical ... In 10, 20 years from now, there's so many things that robots will be doing that humans either don't do or don't do efficiently."
Mr Gilbert was impressed with the House of Science and the skills the students learned there.
"To have an opportunity to get out and meet the students working on projects like this is very important. For students to be learning science and technology, about the environment, these are critically important things for the future.
"To have the opportunity to address the students and see what they are working on is one of the best parts of my job."
Mr Gilbert gave each of the students a "challenge coin" with the American eagle on one side and the silver fern on the other side, as well as a pin flying the flags of both countries.
Student Kate Low, 17, said it was an awesome experience to meet someone so high ranking.
At the world competition, the team will have to meet three other robots in a field and compete to throw the most balls into nets.
They have been working on their robot since May last year.