Team 10445 is busy gearing up for the VEX Robotics Competition this weekend at Ever Creek in Surrey.
“These guys are really fine-tuning. They are making sure that their robots are ready to go,” says Brent Crich, teacher-sponsor of the SRT robotics club.
It’s just after 3 pm, and inside Room 2110 there are 14 members the Samuel Robertson Technical robotics club – aka Team 10445, a numerical nod to school’s street address –gathered to make the final tweaks and adjustments to their robotics before the competition.
The students exchange good-natured banter but they are clearly focused on the task at hand.
The stakes are high. If the team makes the final at Ever Creek they will guarantee themselves a spot at the provincial championship.
Since its inception six years ago with just a single robot, the SRT robotics club has been trending up. The club now has three robots, 16 members in grades 8-12, and it has become a force to be reckoned with on the VEX competition circuit.
“The A Team came first in their pool of about 80 schools at competition just before Christmas in West Vancouver. It just blew a lot of people away,” says Crich. “So, these guys are starting to get recognized.”
Grade 12 student Orlando Torres is the team’s captain and longest-serving club member.
“I hope our team makes it to the provincials this year by placing in the final of this next qualification,” says Torres.
“The competitions are really big because they have teams from around the Lower Mainland and BC, sometimes teams from the States. These competitions have around 60 teams every time. Referees, spectators, it’s a big thing. It’s really intense when you get in there because everyone is just watching you.”
For the uninitiated, here’s how it works. Competitions take place inside a 12-foot by 12-foot field and feature opposing teams of students, red and blue squads known as alliances. Matches start with a 15-second autonomous period where student-programed robots perform functions or tasks on their own.
Next, the teams of student-operated robots face off in the square as they attempt to score by toggling flags, flipping caps and maneuvering robots onto parking platforms. High flags can only be toggled by firing balls from your robot. The goal is to get more points than the opposing alliance.
“The robots are remote-controlled, sometimes by wire and sometimes just by Wi-Fi. Basically, the kids have built and designed them to do the gearing or lifting or pushing that they want them to do,” says Crich.
Problem-solving under pressure can make the difference between winning and losing during the competitions.
“It’s very exciting,” says Mark Smart, a Grade 11 student who has been on the team for three years. “It brings a lot of challenges that you have to overcome and build around.”
At the team’s last competition, for instance, they encountered an electrical issue. “Our driving [system] wasn’t working very well, so we were trying to figure out how to get it working, switching wires around to see what was wrong to fix it. We got it to work better by the end.”
Crich, who is a physics teacher and with a background as a geo-technical engineer, says the students deserve all the credit for the success they have achieved.
“These guys truly are the masters and they are the ones who have achieved the success. We have just provided things like rides to the competition and buying parts. They’ve looked at other people’s designs, talked to other people, YouTubed until they are blue in the face and improved. It really is quite impressive.”
Crich, who oversees the program along with teacher-sponsor Steve Demos, believes that the members of the SRT robotics club will enjoy continued success when they graduate from high school.
“It’s high-tech, and there are lots of careers in high-tech,” he says. “Not in just BC, but in the world. I want to have something that’s high-tech like this that exposes them to what is out there. The contacts that they meet at these competitions could also lead to careers for them or at least get them thinking about what those careers might be. They may start with robotics here and realize that 10 years down the road they are working at Boeing putting jets together. We’ve got a couple who’ve actually gone on to have careers in robotics.”