Alpha Dogs test robotic skills

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Seventeen-year-old Jeremy Sant forgot what it was like to relax at home after school.


“I honestly didn’t know how it felt to go home after school and not just instantly sleep when I got there,” he said from a classroom at Humberview Secondary School in Bolton.


He’s part of the Alpha Dogs, the school’s newly formed robotics club that has taken the high school robotics world by storm. This past weekend, the rookie team qualified for the championship in St. Louis at the end of April. The team finished sixth out of 32 teams – the highest ranking for a first year team – and won an award for “Ingenuity” and Rookie All Stars at a tournament in North Bay this past weekend. The next goal is to raise the nearly $20,000 they need to get to the competition.


“I honestly can’t believe it sometimes,” said Sant, one of the original founders, before heading to the competition. “We never really thought we were going to get this far.”


The club focuses on designing, constructing, programming and operating robots. In the competitions, they face off against other robots in teams of three.


Sant, along with nearly 30 other club members, spent 12-hours a day at the school during the month of January preparing for their last competition – The FIRST Robotics Canada (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Competition held in February.


“I lost a lot of sleep for awhile,” he said. “It’s been a really, really, really good experience.”


They were given the “bare bones” of a robot at the beginning of January – a drive train, wheels and a frame – and six weeks to put it all together. Everything else – the design, programming, and structure – they had to come up with themselves. And they had to do it under a budget.


But, it was worth it, he said. As a rookie team in January’s competition, the Alpha Dog’s placed sixth out of 31 teams, which included three former world champions. They also won three awards: The Rookie Inspirational, Highest Seeded and Innovation in Design Awards.


Stefan Pleava was one of the founding club members. He is graduating this year, and despite all the work and time it took, he would gladly do it all over again.


“It makes me wish I was in Grade 9 again,” he said. “I wish I could do high school all over again just to be in this club.”


Now, they’re in the process of training the junior members to take over the club when the founders leave.


While the build season was busy, he loved every minute of it.


“Homework is done at lunch so you have more time for robotics after school,” he said. “When I go home now, instead of looking up video games, I look up robotics.”


For him, it’s the challenge working in robotics gives him.


How they’re going to make the wheels spin at the same speed, improve the aim, make the robot work on its own, among many others.


“When you overcome that challenge you really feel incredible,” he said. “The harder the challenge, the greater it feels when you overcome it.”


It’s also changed the way he looks at his future career, he said. At first, he thought he just liked software engineering, but he also likes control systems, devices that manage and control other devices or systems together.


Pleava was looking forward to the competition to see how other people solve problems and use it for inspiration for their own system – plus, of course, the chance to qualify for the competition.


“I’d be ecstatic,” he said before the compeition. “It would be one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.”


Watching the students build the club from the ground up has been inspirational to vice principal Jennifer Kipfer, who supported the club from its start and is one of the supervisors.


“For a rookie team to build something of this calibre is unbelievable,” she said. “It gives [the school] another thing to be proud of.”


For more information on the club, visit


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