The Haliburton Highlands Secondary School Robotics team from left Eric Wooton advisor Dan Gimon Caleb Schmidt Betty Paton Brandon Verstege Sam Longo Jordan Lapierre and advisor Dan Fockler with their robot Sir Richard of Rotary recently returned from the 2016 FIRST Stronghold an annual robotics competition from March 23 to 26 at Nipissing University in North Bay. HHSS was one of 32 teams competing at the North Bay Regional event. Absent for the photo was Cassandra Johannessen Cody Williams and Jonas Hill./DARREN LUM Staff

Competition experience enriches Robotics team members

By Darren Lum

Published April 12 2016

When given the chance Sir Richard of Rotary stood tall among the other gallant robots competing at the 2016 FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Stronghold robotics competition.

The Red Hawks robotics team named their robot Sir Richard after King Richard or Richard the Lionheart and the Rotary Club of Haliburton a major sponsor.

They were one of 32 school teams competing in the raid scenario competition at the North Bay Regional from March 23 to 26 at Nipissing University.

The team had six weeks to build its robot capable of working in an alliance of three robots to score more points than another three-robot team by overcoming a line of fortifications and raid a tower – think medieval era castle attack – by pushing and/or throwing balls at a tower to “capture” it.

According to the FIRST website this competition is a “varsity sport for the mind.”

The robotics team not only built and programmed a robot to perform prescribed tasks against other teams but also raised funds designed a team brand and worked within a team towards a goal. “It’s as close to real-world business and engineering as a student can get” the website said.

Despite a strong opening round with HHSS finishing 11th they were not chosen to create an alliance for the playoff round. They were relegated as a backup and joined alliance eight made up of RAMAZOIDZ of Toronto the Purple Raiders of Windsor and WARP7 of Toronto.

After a 189-to-64 loss with Haliburton on the sidelines the red and white proved they belonged when they replaced WARP7 which suffered a breakdown in the second match of the playoffs. Although they couldn’t help the alliance win they reduced the plus/minus by 31 points impressing many other teams and coaches.

Hawks’ driver and third-year member Caleb Schmidt felt a strong sense of satisfaction with the result particularly when the earlier robot was unable to score at the low goal because of a malfunctioning arm.

“As soon as we were able to it was like I felt more useful. We could still go over the defences but now we could shoot and score which was a big help too” he said.

Schmidt and the team didn’t feel too upset at not getting picked for the playoffs. They understood the alliances were formed mainly based on familiarity.

“It is a lot to do with who you know. You know it shouldn’t be like that” he said. “It was also because near the start of the competition we had a lot of breakdowns so teams thought ‘Oh they’re just going to break down in the playoffs.”

He adds they were able to get the robot working perfectly on the last day.

Receiving help from another team with writing the computer code to refine the controls for the robot during the competition also factored he said. Among the factors for the better result was using an Xbox 360 video game console controller and his confidence and experience as a second-year driver.

Schmidt who believed the robot was far and away better than last year’s wished for another chance to compete.

“It was amazing. I wish we could go to another regional because it was so fun to just drive the robot and do all those things” he said.

After this year’s robotics experience Schmidt is clearer than ever he wants to pursue an engineering career.

Faculty advisor Dan Gimon said the team’s behaviour engagement and co-operation was impressive while at the competition. Their ability to work together and communicate despite their age differences was also something he noticed.

Gimon wasn’t sure about the viability of the team for next year and is looking for a mentor.
“I think some fresh mentor blood would be helpful possibly an HHSS alumna who [has] gone into the engineering field” he wrote in an email.

Attendance for meetings due to work athletics family and school affected the six-week robot build period.

The team he adds started with 19 members but finished with eight. He hopes this year’s result will encourage new members to join and plans to visit the “feeder” schools with the robot to entice Grade 8s to join when they are in Grade 9.

The red and white were one of 3000 teams comprising of more than 78000 students around the world that participated in competitions like this globally. The 2016 FIRST Championship will be held at the Edward Jones Dome from April 27 to 30 in St. Louis Missouri.

Jordan Lapierre who is also a player for the junior Red Hawks basketball team said the preparation between games was “a lot more intense” than athletic events because the robot requires regular care and maintenance.

Schmidt who is a provincial bronze medallist in badminton said this event rivalled any sporting event particularly with the boisterous crowds and video cameras.

Grade 10 Brandon Verstege a first-year member and junior Red Hawks basketball player compared it to the big leagues of sports with the hundreds watching and cheering.

He said his experience was far better than he had anticipated.

“A lot of the work at school was what I thought it would be: just working on the robot getting stuff put together formulating ideas but at the competition it was just amazing” he said. “It was a lot better than I thought it would be. Just going against the other teams was a really great experience.”

He didn’t expect the collegial and friendly atmosphere among all the teams.

“It was really informal and I really got to know some great people” he said. “They were helping out a lot. The other teams weren’t afraid to provide parts. We’d go up to the front and they would put out an announcement for a part every once in a while. The other teams would be right there.”

For any students uncertain about joining Verstege cannot recommend joining enough.

“Don’t be afraid to walk into robotics club one day” he said. “Pop in and see if room 14 is open and hang out for a day or two and see how it’s like.”

Note: The team’s largest sponsor was the Trillium Lakelands District School Board followed by the Rotary Club of Haliburton CUPE Local 997 Thomas Contracting Haliburton Home Hardware and other local sponsors.