Robot designers hope to claim international prize

Globe hopping | After topping competitors 
in Brazil, Yorkton, Sask., students plan trip to Germany to bring home gold medal

YORKTON, Sask. — A high school robotics team from Yorkton Regional High School is taking its talents to the world stage.

Having topped the Skills Canada competition in robotics for Saskatchewan in 2011, the Yorkton Regional High School team moved on to win the national titles, and that earned them a trip to the biannual world competition in Germany this July.

A four-member team competed in the Canadian events last year, but only two-member teams get to attend the World Skills International Leipzig 2013 event.

Bo Chiasson and Jayden Leister will represent YRHS. Taylor Pachal graduated from high school and Rachael Machnee is enrolled in school in Britain.

At the world event, teams from 20 countries will compete July 2-7.

Teacher adviser Kevin Chiasson said his hopes for Germany are “to do the best we can” and at least garner a medal of excellence.

Chiasson said that the competition is scored out of 1,000, with teams scoring 500 or more points receiving the medal of excellence. An Ontario team earned that in 2011 when they finished seventh.

Leister is shooting for the top.

“It’s to win,” he said.

Chiasson added, “Gold would be amazing. I think we can do it.”

Leister said the key to success is to spend the next four months working on design and robot operation.

Chiasson said the world event offers new challenges, with greater reliance on programming than in past.

“The building part is more interesting,” he said, conceding programming is not his particular strength

Leister said having the main robotic chassis provided through the world event makes the process different than having to cobble a robot together for the events leading up to worlds.

“I kind of liked the idea of scrounging for stuff,” he said, noting the result was more personal.

The team recently attended the World Americas event in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and emerged winners against competitors from Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Uruguay.

“To be honest, we were shocked,” said Chiasson.

Chiasson said the experience in Brazil was amazing.

“I knew we had a chance,” he said.

Leister said the extracurricular activity involves much work.

“It’s been non-stop working since provincials. Even before that, we were working hard,” he said.

Leister said the world robotics event will look good on a resume.

“I’ve got to keep this in mind,” he said.

Chiasson said competitions at worlds revolve around students having to construct and program robots to carry out a predetermined task.

As an example, he said students have to design a robotic arm and install it on a provided platform unit. They then have to program the unit so that they can operate it to pick up a series of wooden body parts and construct a wooden man model.

“It’s like a game,” he said, adding the process forces participants to work on their problem-solving skills.

“There’s lots of analyzing and thinking out of the box.”

Chiasson said they are close to having the robotic arm built, which allows the team a few months of practice to manoeuvre the robot to complete its task.

“You have to be comfortable with the controls,” he said, noting there is a need to be fast and accurate to score well.

The interest in robotics is extending to the classroom with three full classes of Grade 9 electrical/robotics and YRHS offering Grade 10 robotics and developing a Grade 11 curriculum for the fall.

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