Students pit their robots in head-to-head battle at BCIT

Gracelynn Yaroshuk, Hoying Ching and Kelly Nguyen of the Ecole Salish Secondary School robotics team work on their robot 'STEM Girlie' at the annual VEX Robotics competition at BCIT. PHOTO BY FRANCIS GEORGIAN/PNG

(Prince George Post): High school students from across Metro Vancouver gathered in a gym at BCIT on Saturday to battle custom built robots in the hopes of claiming their place at the provincial championships and — even more hopefully — at the upcoming world championship.

Amid the sounds of humming motors and occasionally grinding gears, more than 90 teams swerved, spun and rammed their robots, three to a ring, in several 12-by-12-foot battlefields that covered half the gym floor.

Teams needed to pick up foam discs from the floor or the ring and fling them into red and blue Frisbee golf-style nets in the corners. They also had to complete a series of skills tests demonstrating driving and other control skills.

“It’s very difficult because when you’re on the field you get really anxious and really stressed,” said Kelly Nguyen, captain of the only all-girl team at the competition, a seven-member team from Ecole Salish Secondary School in Surrey.

The team came together at the school’s robotics club and since November have spent as much as 15 hours a week working on their robot, which they named “STEM Girlie” and decorated with a small Polaroid of the seven team members.
“There was a day, right before winter break, we stayed from 12 to six. We skipped our classes,” Nguyen said, laughing.

Nguyen was recently accepted into the computer science program at Simon Fraser University.

B.C. teams have done really well at the world championship in the past, according to Jason Brett, director of the Pacific Youth Robotics Society.

“Some of the volunteers running the event here today are former world champions,” he said.

The benefits to students go far beyond the technical (though there is that, too), Brett said.

“Where the really great benefits have come is in teamwork, co-operation, collaboration and the life challenges and lessons that people get through being involved in a sporting event,” he said.

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