Photo by MYLES FISH/Advocate staff

Lacombe robotics team grinds way to finals

Thanks to an angle grinder and a good deal of diplomacy, the robotics team from Lacombe Composite High School will get to test their talents against the world later this month.

Thanks to an angle grinder and a good deal of diplomacy, the robotics team from Lacombe Composite High School will get to test their talents against the world later this month.

February’s regional robotics competition in Edmonton did not get off to a great start for the Lacombe team, as they discovered their creation was a single millimetre wider than the strict size limit allowed. So out came the angle grinder to shave it down to a suitable size.

But the team then lost its first match, putting it in a precarious position to qualify for the finals.

It would recover to win three of its next four round robin matches, but even then had not distinguished itself as one of the strongest teams among the 41 competing.

It did, however, distinguish itself as the most sportsmanlike team, and one of the most active in scouting and networking.

So when two dominant Fort McMurray teams had their chance to choose an alliance partner to take with them to the finals, the Lacombe lads got the call.

“A lot of the teams were really competitive and they weren’t helping anyone; we went out of our way and helped all the other teams out, even the ones that weren’t doing as well, the ones that were struggling.

“The one powerful team appreciated the help we had given them and other people, and that’s the reason we ended up in their alliance,” said Blake Core.

“We do a great job at helping other teams that are struggling, because we’ve been in that position,” he added.

The Fort McMurray/Lacombe alliance would win the competition, and from that result all three earned the right to compete in the VEX Robotics World Championships in Anaheim, Calif., from April 23 to 26.

United Robotics of Lacombe — Team [URL] for short — will take its robot named http:// (the letters standing for “honourable, teamwork, tenacious, professionalism”) to the competition, which will feature over 400 teams from 19 countries. Similar to the regional competition, the small group’s robot will have two minutes in each match to manoeuvre around obstacles to pick up balls of various sizes and then deposit them into designated areas in the robot arena to score points.

The team has two more weeks to tinker with its design before the competition, then hope that it can handle the hardships of the ring against some elite challengers. At one past event, a small fire broke out on a different battery-powered bot; at another, the connection between the controls and the machine was faulty, rendering the robot immobile.

Team members say this robot’s specialty is its smooth lift system, and some recent modifications have made it a faster model. The dozen members in the extra-curricular robotics club have each developed different specialties — from programming to retooling to controlling — and the Grade 12 students involved say the experience has inspired them to pursue engineering studies moving forward.

The club started about seven years ago and students first started entering competitions four years ago. Two years ago, students also participated in world championships.

Club advisor and teacher Steven Schultz said next year a project-based credit course incorporating robotics will be offered at the school.

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