Gearing up for national robo-sports competition
Every night after school, Bishop Carroll High School student Alex Vu travels to SAIT to put the finishing touches on his very own robot — one that can stack tote bins, lift recycling cans and properly dispose of litter.
The robot isn't meant to help with the family chores at home — instead, it's destined for the upcoming FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), an annual event that tasks high school teams from around the globe to design and build the best robot to complete a specific task.
Since this year's challenge — Recycle Rush — was announced in January, several Calgary teams, including Vu's Alberta Tech Alliance (ATA), have utilized SAIT's space to build and test their robots. Instructors and SAIT students volunteer their time and expertise to help get the 'bots competition-ready. (Photo: Members of the Alberta Tech Alliance (ATA) Team and their robot, Elevation - Alex Batonyi , Grade 11, Bishop Carroll High School; Alanna Young, Grade 11, Notre Dame High School; Jayden Chan, Grade 10, Bishop Carroll High School; Sav Sidorov, Grade 10, Henry Wisewood High School; and Miranda Sampson, Grade 10, Bishop Carroll High School).
"It's been amazing. The instructors, specifically Craig Maynard, have supported the team enormously," says Vu. "Without them, we wouldn't even have the space to build our robot. Their kindness and willingness to help out has been unprecedented."
A mutually beneficial mentorship
Maynard, an instructor for the Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET) program, says it's a win-win relationship.
"Our high school participants have the opportunity to get their hands dirty and learn about the mechanics that go into creating robots," says Maynard. "They get to do all this with like-minded SAIT students who mentor them.
"In fact, many of the high school students who have participated in the past now attend SAIT. It's a natural progression for them."
MET student Richard Lushai, who is specializing in robotics and automation, says mentoring is not only fun, but helps to reinforce what he's learning in his classes.
"Being a mentor is exciting and stressful — but you learn a lot too. It's not just about helping the teams build the robots, but teaching them how to deal with challenges they may encounter as they are working on their project," says Lushai.
"We encourage them to drive the project; we want to support them and be there for them if they need assistance."
See Elevation in action (video courtesy ATA's website):
Getting ready to recycle!
Watching Vu's bot whiz around a make-shift arena built on the second floor of the Aldred Centre, it's hard to believe just five weeks earlier, Vu and the thousands of student competitors from around the world had nothing more than a box of parts.
"I have always been interested in engineering — wanting to know how things worked and how to create," says Vu. "Now I help build 120 lbs. robots that compete in high-level competitions."
Vu's team is preparing for the Western Canada Regionals, where they'll compete against 32 other teams from Canada and the United States. If successful, they'll earn a chance to move on to the international FIRST Robotics event — the largest annual robotics competition in the world.
"If students have the time and the willingness to put the hours in, they come out with an experience they can be proud of," says Vu.
"For me, my favourite statement has been, ‘You couldn't pay me to work this hard.' Something like that only comes from someone that truly loves and finds a passion in robotics. That's what robotics is, a project that ignites passion and determination in all those who are willing to take it seriously."
The Western Regionals competition will take place April 2 to 4 at Earnest Manning High School in Calgary.
March 13, 2015