Robots to the Rescue
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!
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.