Thousands of cheering fans packed the University of Windsor’s St. Denis Centre on Friday as 48 high schools from Canada and the United States pitted their robots against each other.
This was Windsor’s second time hosting the Windsor-Essex Great Lakes Regional FIRST Robotics tournament, featuring more than 1,000 students who spent the first month and a half this year constructing and coding robots to stack and move large totes and recycling bins.
The competition kicked off early Friday with the opening ceremonies where Mayor Drew Dilkens announced that Windsor is now recognized as one of seven FIRST communities across Canada where the regional tournaments are held.
“We spend hundreds of hours from the beginning of January to Feb. 17 building,” said Mark Lokun, head of the tech department at Belle River high school. “And then there’s all the other stuff that goes along with it.”
Lokun said the work the students do in the building process range from fundraising, programming between the control system and robot, using AutoCAD for design, and operating machinery to build the robots.
Just last Wednesday his team, the Belle River Automatons, found out they had been selected to compete in the championships on April 22 in St. Louis, Missouri. “That’s great for our team,” Lokun said.
The FIRST world championships brings in robotics teams from around the world. Last year, Sandwich Secondary School went on to the championship.
Lokun’s team was one of several local teams participating in the Windsor tournament.
“I’m really excited to be here today,” said Jared Glatter, 18, a Grade 12 student from Tecumseh Vista. “I was a little unsure on how we were going to do today, but looking at the first two matches, we did a lot better than I thought.”
Glatter said that his team, Viral Vortex, had to think and act quickly to prepare for the competition. “We only had six weeks to do it, so we didn’t have a lot of time,” he said.
“I love the events because it gets kids excited,” said FIRST executive director Mark Breadner. “It gets them inspired — the ‘I’ in FIRST stands for inspiration.”
FIRST is an acronym meaning: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.
Aside from the competition being about kids having fun, Coun. Irek Kusmierczyk, who’s also the robotics director for WEtech, said it also builds a plethora of skills and connections to industry professionals.
“It is also to help position our young people for success in the 21st-century knowledge economy,” he said. “These students are walking away with life skills like collaboration, teamwork, communication, their resilience.”
Kusmierczyk said that Windsor is the fastest-growing community within the FIRST robotics competition. Two years ago there was only one Windsor team competing — Sandwich. Now, there’s 14.
“This sport is a perfect fit for our community,” Kusmierczyk said. “We are an automotive, automation, robotics, machining, industrial and innovative city.”
Kusmierczyk said the event also brings in about $1 million into the city each year.
The Belle River Automatons have penned the estimated cost of going to the championship as $15,000 and are asking for help raising funds. They launched a crowdfunding campaign on Go Fund Me on Thursday and within 18 hours had raised around $480. People wishing to donate can go to: gofundme.com/qrakw4.
The Windsor competition will continue Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the St. Denis Centre, 2555 College Ave. Admission is free for anyone to attend. Various awards will be given out to the robotics teams throughout the day.
Click here to see the original article in the Windsor Star.