Adriana Rajotte

Students get a grip on robotics

Mastering basic robotics provides a scissor lift and grasping tool for high school techies seeking a boost into higher education.

Mastering basic robotics provides a scissor lift and grasping tool for high school techies seeking a boost into higher education.

On Saturday afternoon, teams of students from Edmonton, Wainwright, Lacombe and Red Deer brought their robots to the Alberta Robotics Championship at Red Deer College for a shot at a berth in the FIRST Tec Challenge world championship in St. Louis, Missouri on April 25-28.

Being on a winning team looks great on a resume and is a big help in seeking scholarships, said returning champion Chris Watson of Blessed Sacrament School in Wainwright, whose team won the event last year.

The Blessed Sacrament team went on to finish in the top half during the 2010 World Championship event, Watson said as he and fellow team members scrambled to replace a faulty servo on their robot, Indra, named for the Hindu god of thunder.

Thunder is the ongoing theme for the Wetaskiwin teams, which have set a tradition of naming their robots after gods of thunder from various religions and mythologies, said Watson, 17 and in Grade 12.

After winning its first round on Saturday, Indra developed some mechanical issues and needed repairs to be ready for the next round.

The team was able to borrow a servo from another team and got their robot back in running order just in time to get back to the ring, where points are earned by having competing robots manage boxes of tennis balls.

Each year, the students look at what worked well and where things didn’t shape up as planned in designing and building their robots, said Watson.

His team’s ‘bot included rotating sweepers on the front and back, similar to pickup heads on a combine while another team had created a pallet fork that would slip into the ports on the boxes. Indra’s scissor lift gave it more height for reaching into the upper box in a stack.

Competition inside the ring is fierce with each robot scrambling to complete as many tasks as possible without struggling against penalties, said organizer Brian McLachlin, a trades and technology instructor at Red Deer College.

Outside the ring, however, students from opposing teams are encouraged to form bonds of friendship and to help each other out wherever possible, he said.

“There are numerous ways teams work together and co-operate off the field. It’s all part of gracious professionalism,” said McLachlin.

Red Deer College has been hosting the event for the past five years and watching it slowly grow to attract more and more teams.

“We got approached by FIRST, which is the organization that oversees this competition.

“To us, when we saw what it does for students, we just got excited.”

Hosting the competition is a help for prospective students and showcases the information technology programs being offered at Red Deer College, said McLachlin.

This year’s competition also helped showcase the colleges plan to roll out new programs in electrical and mechanical engineering next fall, he said.

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