City hopes to become robotics hub

North Bay Nipissing News

NORTH BAY – They’re back.

Or at least they will be

Robots are expected to take over Nipissing University’s athletic centre next month when the city hosts the regional robotics competition where 36 school from across Ontario will be vying for the opportunity to compete at the world championships in Missouri in April.

North Bay’s inaugural foray into the world of robotic game playing “really put us on the map,” said Mayor Al McDonald who is one of the co-chairs of the competition.

“Last year’s event was a real joy to be part of and I was inspired by the competitors doing things I couldn’t even imagine. The competition brings 1,000 students and mentors to our city, which is a real economic boost.”

The event was sold out with the maximum number of teams signing up within a week of the announcement.

“This is a great opportunity for the city and for the university and the competition itself is amazing,” said Anthony Rota, McDonald’s co-chair. “Last year was a resounding success and we want to make this an annual event. North Bay has become a premier venue for robotics.”

The Robotics Canada North Bay Regional Competition represents the highest level of robotics competition offered by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics, an organization dedicated to inspiring young people to pursue studies and careers in those fields.

“We would love to hold the competition permanently in North Bay,” said Anthony Koziol, a mentor for the North Bay robotics team 1305 Ice Cubed.

“The North Bay team is one of the longest hauling teams to compete in FIRST. Most of the competitions are at least five hours away for them,” he said.

 “We have big sponsors in southern Ontario and competitions in Waterloo in the heart of IT country where the students get lots of exposure to the sexy jobs available at places like GM, NASA and National Instrument.

“Those are all great companies,” Koziol said, “ and they were all telling the students that ‘We want you,’ but not one of them had an office in North Bay. I thought there was something wrong with that. Where was the mining industry in all this?”

Today, mining relies heavily on robotics and advanced technology like vision tracking and Redpath has become the major sponsor of the North Bay competition.

“Mining has wonderful job opportunities for these young people and they get to travel the world, and sit in first class doing it,” Koziol said.

FIRST Robotics director Mark Breadner said he’s thrilled the competition is coming back to North Bay.

“The North Bay community has been incredibly welcoming and the volunteers are passionate about doing things for the kids. All of the competitors last year, who came from as far away as Windsor, said it was a great competition.”

Every team competing builds their robots from scratch over a six-week period and then pit these five-foot tall, 120 pound creations in high intensity robo-sports.

“It’s as close to real world engineering as a student can get,” said Breadner

The same game is played in every competition world wide, but that game changes every year.

This year, the robots will be challenging each other in a recycling-themed game played by two alliances of three robots each. Robots score points by stacking totes on scoring platforms, capping those stacks with recycling containers and then filling the containers with pool noodles representing litter.

In keeping with the recycling theme of the game, all game pieces will be reused or recycled by the teams.

“The North Bay competition is going to be bigger and better this year,” Breadner said. “There’s really nothing like the excitement and competitiveness of a FIRST event. Once people come out to see it, you can’t keep them away.”

The event begins with a set up on March 26, a practice on March 27, and competition March 28 and 29. There is no admission charge to view the games and everyone is welcome to take in the robotic experience.

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