St. Mary robotics team competing at World Championships

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The St. Mary Catholic Secondary School robotics team is competing against the best in the World – at the FIRST World Championships in St. Louis, MO.


The team, made up of 32 students from the school, came out on top at the New York City Regional FIRST Robotics Championship earlier this month. The win for St. Mary’s MakeShift team and their robot ‘Chuck’ came in an alliance with a school from New York and another from the United Kingdom.


Team mentor Matt Alderson told theReview it was a huge deal for the team to win in New York.


“The goal this year was to qualify for Worlds,” he said. “So they achieved that goal.


“Now that they’re going there, what I tell them is they’re goal is already accomplished.”


The team only had six weeks to build ‘Chuck,’ a 1.2 metre-tall robot capable of launching an exercise ball with a diameter of 600 millimetres through a goal on the wall.


The MakeShift robot has a top speed of 18 km/h and weighs in at 50 kilograms. It can pick up balls with a motorized roller attached to a pneumatic intake arm. To fire the balls, ‘Chuck’ uses a spear-fish gun-tubing powered catapult.


Alderson said it was an impressive feat for St. Mary to build the robot, considering their facilities.


“We don’t have a machine shop, we don’t have any real facilities,” he said. “We’re competing against teams . . . from the States who are sponsored by NASA.”


“They’ve got 14 NASA engineers, they’ve got access to the NASA machine shops. So they’ve got state-of-the-art equipment,” he continued. “Their robots look like works of art, whereas ours – we make everything with hand tools – hacksaws and hand drills.”


This year’s game features three robots from two alliances trying to outscore the other team by shooting the exercise balls through a goal in either end of a seven by 25-metre playing field.


Additional points are awarded for passing the ball over a truss in the centre of the field and for passing the ball to a teammate before scoring.


When the task for the year is announced, teams are able to build and program their robot, before sealing it away for the competition.


Prior to heading to New York, the St. Mary team lost in the semifinals in Waterloo against some of the world’s top teams.


Heading into St. Louis, where they began competing Wednesday, St. Mary was ranked 35th in the world out of 2,700 teams.


But while qualifying for Worlds was the team’s five-year goal, which they achieved in three, it’s the not the main reason for the program.


“The whole point of the thing is not so much about the robot and how it does,” Alderson explained. “It’s all the stuff they learn up until that point.


“They’re learning programming and they’re learning metal working skills, how to manage their time.”


Many of the students on the team, which features pupils from Grades 9-12, had their start in the FIRST Lego League teams – including the program at Waterdown’s Guardian Angels.


Noah Linton, a Waterdown student who took part in that program said that helped him get involved at St. Mary.


“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “You get to make great friends on your team and you get to explore great places.


“Also just the technical challenges and the problem solving – everything that makes the team what it is.”


Linton noted since the team’s goal was to make Worlds, anything else at this point is a bonus.


“It’s really just gravy from now on,” he said. “Even if we don’t do well – I mean, I hope we do – but it’s really just for fun now.”


Still, the team will be aiming to win in Missouri.


“We’ve got a chance to win the World Championships and that would be a huge deal,” Alderson said.


Grade 12 student Sabrina Angco of Freelton said it’s crazy that the team, in only its third year, is competing against the world.


Angco said she got involved with the program after seeing robotics demonstrations around the school.


“I saw what a cool program it was for high school students to learn about engineering,” said Angco, who will study engineering at university in the fall. “Like hands on and not just through math. You get to actually apply what you learn.”


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