Building a better 'bot on tap for teens

Building the best ‘bot their money can buy is the challenge some local high school students are facing in the coming months.

Members of the Penticton Robotics Club are currently gearing up for next year’s international FIRST Robotics Competition.

And they have 100 million good reasons to succeed. That is the estimated amount of cash scholarships competitors are eligible to apply for.

FIRST stands for, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology and is a program involving thousands of student teams from around the world.

Under strict rules and limited time and resources, teams must build industrial-sized robots to play a difficult field game in alliance with other teams, while also fundraising to meet their goals and designing a team “brand.”

Working together, the members will design a robot that will perform a designated task that will be announced early next year.

For a few of the club members this will not be their first robotics rodeo, some having competed in 2019 at the North Pacific Regional Competition in Victoria, the site of the next event.

That year the team finished third out of 50 entries and earned the rookie all-star award and the right to advance to the next round in Texas which was eventually cancelled due to the pandemic.

“So we’re really looking forward to getting that chance again, that’s for sure,” said club member and Grade 12 Maggie student Marcus Francisco.

While they don’t know yet what the task will be, they have already built a base model.

“We know that whatever the task is the robot will have to drive around and when January comes we’ll do some stuff up here to do who knows what?” said Francisco motioning above the existing vehicle.

“So right on Jan. 7 all the teams in the world will know what the task is and then they will work as hard as they can until March 1.”

But building the robots is only part of the task at hand for team members in this particular competition

“A lot of students like to broaden their understanding of robots, designing them, building them, programming them,” said Maggie’s Scarlett Steyn. “But they also learn financial skills, collaborative skills, teamwork obviously, but mostly we do it for fun.

“It’s just something that’s very personal to everyone.”

In 2019 the group managed to raise $20,000, all of which went to pay for robot parts, travel expenses and the large entry fee.

Hoping to raise a similar amount this time, the club has started a GoFundMe campaign and is taking donations on their website as well as finding sponsors like NuFloors Penticton who got behind the club this time around.

According to Francisco, teams compete to complete the required task in five-minute matches.

“It’s not recommended to make any physical contact with the other robots so it’s definitely not BattleBots at all,” he said with a laugh.

BattleBots is a televised robot combat competition that takes place in an elimination-style tournament as the machines battle to the death.

There is more information about the FIRST competition and the club itself on the Penticton Robotics website.

On the net: pentictonrobotics.ca

Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Penticton Herald