If you’re 16, with a keen interest in whirring, buzzing, useful things, where else would you want to be on a breezy day in May?
“It’s incredible,’’ Samuel Delattre said of the people traffic at Communitech’s Tech Leadership Conference (TLC) May 28. “I’m a high school student, and I’m here with these companies and startups that could be part of my future.”
But it wasn’t a one-sided fascination. Conference attendees showed just as much interest in what Delattre and schoolmates Danny Faryna and Caitlin Idziak were up to in a corner of the exposition hall.
Guided by radio control, a large robot resembling a forklift with jaws wheeled around the space, stacking and unstacking empty crates. The machine is the 2015 incarnation of what Team Dave builds to take part in annual FIRST Robotics competitions in Waterloo Region and abroad.
Delattre, Faryna, Idziak and more than 30 other students at St. David Catholic Secondary School in Waterloo make up Team Dave, also known by its FIRST Robotics Competition number – 3683.
FIRST began in the U.S. as means of building student interest in technology through friendly challenges. Delattre is one of thousands of students who made their first competition robots out of Lego and joined FIRST Lego League events in elementary school.
Team Dave’s current robot represents a considerable upscaling from those Lego units.
Some $25,000 worth of parts and machinery kept it twirling on the ballroom floor where TLC hosted a tech expo as part of the conference.
Side panels on the robot carry the names of local sponsors. Fundraisers also contribute to the team’s success in competition.
“We’re really fortunate to have support from the community,’’ said Daniel Delattre, Samuel’s father and the team’s lead mentor. “We’re in the top one per cent of the world.”
To get Team Dave running five years ago, Daniel Delattre approached St. David principal John Dietrich. Alex Matan, a tech teacher at the school, stepped forward as faculty adviser.
No question, Samuel Delattre said, the robot is a great vehicle for attracting attention to opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). But there’s more to it than that.
“It’s a priceless experience,’’ he said. “This is hands-on, and we get involved in the business side, writing business plans, pitching and working on our people skills.
“You can take these skills into your education, and they look good on a resumé.”
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