Vancouver robotics students qualify for the world championships

Three student robotics teams from Gladstone Secondary will challenge the world's best in Louisville, Kentucky, after qualifying at the B.C. Championship.

Robotics teams from Gladstone, University Hill Secondary, and Vancouver Technical Secondary (pictured) were among those competing at Seaquam Secondary in Delta for entry into the VEX Robotics World Championship. Earning an invitation to the provincial tournament was no easy feat; teams have been competing in tournaments since September to land a spot at the event.

For this year's competition, the teams had to create robots to play a game that involves shifting stars and blocks past a fence to the other half of a 144-square-foot playing field.

To build a robot, students apply abstract concepts from the classroom to the reality of plastic and metal. "We have the encoders here which basically tells us how many rotations the wheels go through," said Luofei Chen, one of the four University Hill students at the tournament, pointing at the base of his team's robot. "The wheels are 3.15 inches wide so we just multiply by pi to get the circumference, and we multiply that by the number of rotations to get the distance we cover."

Some details may small, but not trivial, according to Meredith Yu, Grade 12 student from Gladstone and veteran of three world championships. "For example, what size of wheels should we use? What size of screws?", she said, describing typical questions her teammates ask themselves. "We want to see 'will this accelerate fast enough? Can we throw this over the fence fast enough?'"

The technical aspects are challenging but the lessons students gain from robotics extend past equations. Yu's teammate Denise Chan emphasised students must acquire crucial life skills in short order. Perseverance, for example, is crucial; over the course of the year, Chan and her teammates rebuilt their robot from scratch repeatedly to make it lighter, faster, and more efficient.

Both engineering-savvy students noted teamwork can be difficult but essential. "We have to come to a consensus and always try to meet halfway," said Yu. "It's a team-effort thing. It's not just a one-person thing. It's a six-people thing, or a ten-people thing."

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