It combines mental gymnastics for techies with an introduction to the real world of work.
The FIRST Robotics 2015 Windsor-Essex Great Lakes Regional competition is set for April 2-4 at the University of Windsor’s St. Denis Centre.
And the 50 teams attending the second annual event are charged with developing robots to improve recycling and reuse of natural resources.
“You have six weeks (to plan and create your project),” said WEGLR chair Larry Koscielski, who is also CentreLine Windsor Limited’s senior technical and strategic adviser. “The theory is you don’t have enough time, people, money or information. Get used to it and welcome to the real world.”
While an obvious draw for students interested in the sciences, engineering or math, Koscielski said the competition requires students from a wide array of academic interests.
It requires team building, creativity, critical thinking and an ability to raise the $10,000-$15,000 on average that it costs local teams to create a robot.
“The competition is essentially starting up a company,” Koscielski said. “You need accountants, business students, graphic artists, web designers and communications people as much as technical design people.
“It gives kids an opportunity to experience new things, so they’re not just reaching Grade 12 and throwing darts at the wall wondering what they want do in life.”
The importance of this event is evident in the top local industry executives recruited as judges.
“This is largely an industry-driven event,” said Irek Kusmierczyk, the director of robotics and youth programs for WEtech Alliance. “These students graduate and are the future employees and entrepreneurs who will create jobs in this region.”
Companies are also backing their support with financial resources.
Valiant paid $50,000 to be the event’s platinum sponsor while local sponsors such as CentreLine, Siemen’s Canada, St. Clair College and the University of Windsor have chipped in $25,000 apiece.
Kusmierczyk said the event — which will draw 1,500 students from across Ontario, Michigan, New York and California — will pump $1 million into the local economy.
The event will include 10 more teams than a year ago. Teams are composed of up to 30 members and a mentor from industry.
“The best way to describe the atmosphere is it’s part NASA, part NASCAR and part Super Bowl with a little rock concert mixed in,” Kusmierczyk said.
“Our biggest challenge this year is bringing in more stands for the spectators. We packed the stands last year with between 2,500 and 3,000 people.”
Teams will compete three at a time with points earned for everything from how the robot performs to teamwork and assisting other teams.
Kusmierczyk said five or six teams from the regionals advance to the world championships in St. Louis, April 22-25.
Last year, the team from Holy Names reached the world championships. In the past, teams from Assumption and Sandwich have also reached the worlds.
There are 13 teams from Windsor and Essex County entered in the regionals.
The FIRST Robotics Competitions, which were started 20 years ago in the U.S., have become important recruiting grounds for industry.
Koscielski said it also serves as a showpiece for local industry to display what’s available to students.
“The kids realize there’s some pretty neat stuff happening in Windsor and Essex County,” Koscielski said. “As a company, we’re looking at these kids as part of our future.”
Admission to the event is free and competition runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday.
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