Ro­bots to the Res­cue

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Len­noxville

Agroup of Alexan­der Galt High School stu­dents had to stay af­ter school, last Wed­nes­day, to so some ex­tra work in sci­ence; and they sure looked happy about it. The eight boys were there to work on ro­bots, test­ing them and mak­ing minute ad­just-

ments, over and over, in prepa­ra­tion for the third Ro­bot­ics Fes­ti­val that was held, at the Uniprix Sta­dium in Mon­treal, over the weekend.

“We’ve gone to the Ro­bot­ics Fes­ti­val for the last two years, even bring­ing back a prize for best ro­bot de­sign,” said Sci­ence teacher Ian Ver­hey­den in an in­ter­view with the Stanstead Jour­nal. “The Fes­ti­val is in the form of a com­pe­ti­tion but they ap­proach it with a spirit of shar­ing. The teams there are very col­lab­o­ra­tive, there’s a lot of shar­ing of in­for­ma­tion. We’ve got two teams go­ing this year,”

added Mr. Ver­hey­den about the Fes­ti­val that was ex­pect­ing over three thou­sand stu­dents from across the prov­ince.

The ro­bot en­thu­si­asts are all stu­dents of Alexan­der Galt High School’s new sci­ence con­cen­tra­tion pro­gram, run by Mr. Ver­hey­den. “We have four­teen stu­dents in the pro­gram this year. They get twice as much sci­ence as stu­dents in the reg­u­lar pro­gram, with sub­jects like Ro­bot­ics, Com­puter Pro­gram­ming… they have eight sci­ence classes each nine day cy­cle. It’s an out­let for those kids who love sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy,” said the teacher. Al­though, this year, there are no girls in the pro­gram, a few have reg­is­tered for next year.

The Galt stu­dents stay­ing af­ter school were pre­par­ing for the Ro­bot­ics Fes­ti­val chal­lenge for the 9 to 14 year-olds: Lego ro­bots at work in nat­u­ral catas­tro­phes. They were prac­tic­ing send­ing their ro­bots, which they had all made from Lego ro­botic kits, out on mis­sions to do var­i­ous nat­u­ral dis­as­ter in­ter­ven­tions such as mov­ing ve­hi­cles to safety zones, launch­ing planes, mov­ing build­ings and sav­ing lit­tle Lego men and women.

“We can’t use re­mote con­trol. The ro­bot must do its job us­ing its own thoughts,” ex­plained Matthew Sylvester, who is on Team One along with Vin­cent Coté, Ai­den Wil­son, Sunny Skelling-Brooks and Sa­muel DeCourcy, as he placed the roughly twenty-five cen­time­ter-high ro­bot gin­gerly down on the train­ing board for a trial run. The ro­bot is equipped with a color sen­sor to help it stay on course, fol­low­ing a black line to its de­sired des­ti­na­tion. “We get a penalty if we have to pick up the ro­bot and put it back on course,” added Vin­cent.

The three mem­bers of Team Two, MacKen­zie Hutchi­son, Trey Mitchell and Devon Gavura, were work­ing metic­u­lously on their ro­bot, tak­ing it apart, mak­ing ad­just­ments and do­ing trial runs with it. “Pa­tience is the name of the game,” said Mr. Ver­hey­den as he over­saw their work, mak­ing sug­ges­tions when needed.

The prac­tic­ing takes place on a large board, iden­ti­cal to what they would be com­pet­ing on at the Fes­ti­val, built us­ing in­struc­tions and a kit that they re­ceived af­ter reg­is­ter­ing to take part in the com­pe­ti­tion. “We used the build­ing in­struc­tions to make this course. We started off with the ro­bot on a three mo­tor chas­sis and then we de­cided to change to treads,” con­tin­ued Vin­cent. “This color sen­sor has been pro­grammed to fol­low black tracks. If it had to fol­low or­ange or blue tracks, it could get mixed up eas­ier,” ex­plained Sa­muel.

Asked what he liked about Ro­bot­ics, Ai­den Wil­son com­mented: “It’s fun get­ting to build a ro­bot. I couldn’t have built one at home: it’s hard to build one and the Lego kits are ex­pen­sive to buy, about $300.” When I asked Sa­muel if he used to play with Lego when he was younger, he wasn’t shy about ad­mit­ting: “Yes, and I some­times still play with Lego!”

The stu­dents were cer­tainly look­ing for­ward to their big weekend. “We’ll even do some of the chal­lenges along with other teams, teams that we don’t know. It’s a friendly com­pe­ti­tion like that,” said Matthew. “We’ll also get to go to the In­sec­tar­ium, go and watch a movie,” added Sa­muel.

Three stu­dents in the Sci­ence con­cen­tra­tion pro­gram would be miss­ing out on the Mon­treal ad­ven­ture, off on an ad­ven­ture of their own, bring­ing their sci­ence projects to the Hy­dro Que­bec Sci­ence Fair, also tak­ing place last weekend, at the Univer­sité de Sher­brooke. “One of the stu­dents will be bring­ing an Arduino, a sta­tion­ary bike that charges iPods, cell phones,” said Mr. Ver­hey­den.

As sup­per time neared and talk of or­der­ing pizza took the stu­dents’ con­cen­tra­tion away from the ro­bots, named Gary and Paul, briefly, one stu­dent be­gan imag­in­ing his ro­bot per­form­ing over and above the call of duty. “It would be cool if Gary could push those trucks with the plane in them right up to the safety zone,” said Sa­muel am­bi­tiously. “Is that pos­si­ble?” I asked. “Of course! We might even get ex­tra points for that!” Now that’s the kind of op­ti­mistic enthusiasm our sci­en­tists, en­gi­neers and tech­nol­o­gists will need for the fu­ture!

photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Pho­tos Vic­to­ria Vanier

Mem­bers of Team Two (l. to r.), Devon Gavura, MacKen­zie Hutchi­son and Trey Mitchell, test the abil­ity of their ro­bot “Paul” to per­form a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter in­ter­ven­tion in prepa­ra­tion for the Ro­bot­ics Fes­ti­val.

Mem­bers of Galt’s ro­bot­ics Team One, seen here work­ing on the com­puter pro­gram­ming of their ro­bot “Gary”, were (sit­ting l.

to r.) Sa­muel DeCourcy,

Matthew Sylvester and (stand­ing l. to r.)

Ai­den Wil­son, Sunny Skelling

Brooks and Vin­cent Coté.

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