Unlike most school teams competing in FIRST (For Inspiration for Science and Technology) Robotics Canada competitions, Western Technical Commercial School’s is organized and operated solely by students.
“The team organized itself entirely. Every aspect of our team is run by students,” said teacher Eric Halling. “Every part that’s made, every screw that’s turned, it’s by students. They’re probably the only team doing this.”
Many schools rely on adult and older teen mentors and parents for support. Yet, the Western Tech team’s approach seems to be paying off. “Warp 7” as they are called brought home the championship from the FIRST Robotics Waterloo Regional Competition at the University of Waterloo in March qualifying for the world championship in St. Louis, Missouri, at the end of April.
“They have a lot of confidence and they want to do it their way,” Halling said.
The team is 40-students’ strong and is comprised of grades 9 10, 11 and 12’s.
“There is mentorship among the grades,” Halling added.
FIRST Robotics Canada releases its rule book for competition during the last week of students’ Christmas holiday and that’s when teams find out the “problem” they have to solve. With three players on the field, there are different functions that need to be completed, explained Halling.
“Our guys recognize right away, ‘We’re not going to build the best shooter,’ because there are teams that are sponsored by NASA and GM,” he said.
FIRST Robotics bills its competitions as ‘Exhibitions of Engineering Marvels.’
“The students recognize there will be some professionally designed (robots),” Halling said.
Where the team excels is in strategizing. The more they pass the ball, for example, the more points a team earns. Western Tech might not have the fastest or most powerful robot, but their robot is designed as a solid mid-fielder and in-bounder, he said. They are especially good at collaborating with other teams.
Western Tech’s squad was one of 30 teams that competed at the Waterloo regional. Warp 7 formed an alliance with team 254 from San Jose, California and team 2053 from Stoney Creek, Ont., to compete in the sporting event. The Alliance of three robots scored the most points and was most successful in blocking opposing teams’ shooting. They set the world record for highest scores without any fouls.
Captain Ethan Waldie, a Grade 12 student, has been on the team for four years.
“The knowledge FIRST expects you to know is berserk. In Grade 9, it was really baffling. When I was in Grade 9, there was just two of us (Grade 9s). Now, it’s much more evenly balanced,” he said.
Avi Lauter, a Grade 11 student, is the team’s programmer. He re-wrote the code the team uses in Java.
“I like programming video games,” he said of how he’s developed his skills.
Team member Madison Kent is in charge of sponsorship. She said the team visits elementary schools with the robot to drum up enthusiasm for the robotics program.
“They love it,” she said.
Mohit Aasi, who’s in Grade 12, is the team’s robot driver.
“There’s so much pressure on me, but you get used to it,” he said. “You know what you’ve got to do. You’ve got the strategy. The most challenging aspect is creating a strategy, determining what other teams’ weaknesses are and exploit it, getting the robot out of sticky situations.”
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