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Student robotics team heads Down Under for international competition

The team is taking on custom-built robots from schools around the world at the Asia-Pacific Open Championships, taking place at Macquarie University in Sydney

Neon-green fedoras and ties will distinguish Victoria’s four-student team heading to Australia Friday for an international robotics competition.

The snazzy uniforms bring a light touch to the serious business of taking on custom-built robots from schools around the world at the Asia-Pacific Open Championships, taking place at Macquarie University in Sydney.

Amren Kareer from Stelly’s Secondary, Bryce Kong from Spectrum Community School, Max Gregg from Esquimalt High and recent Esquimalt High graduate ­Garrett Waddell are the brain trust for the Victoria entry.

The local team will go up against about 350 14-to-18-year-olds on 48 teams next week from countries such as India, China and Kazakhstan.

Team members Jackson Van Domselaar and Kai Williams are unable to make the trip.

The Victorians make up the lone Canadian team headed Down Under, after winning this year’s B.C. championship in Vancouver.

The local robot, made from about $2,000 worth of electronics and other building blocks, has been dubbed Leia, after the Star Wars character.

The name also brings some female representation to the team, which usually has both boys and girls among its numbers. The team has been active since 2009 and is one of about 40 similar groups around the province.

Amren said he followed his older brother into robotics and enjoys being part of the FIX IT team, which meets at Victoria ­Makerspace, an area at the Vancouver Island Tech Park where community groups can gather and make use of available equipment.

The team has been hard at work on the robot since last September, Amren said.

The Australian contest will have teams involved in an activity called Power Play, in which small cones are stacked on poles known as “junctions” spread around a flat area.

Amren said the robot has “a whole lot of wiring” and various mechanisms that serve specific functions — notably a “grabber” that extends to pick up the cones and release them at the junctions.

The lift system is designed to lift the cones to the right height, he said.

Coach Christine Nicholls said the team has to be proficient in computer programming, 3D printing and many other disciplines, and also does its own fundraising for things like the trip to Australia. Along with that, members are working on a skit about Canada to perform at the cultural portion of the overseas event.

Max is the robot’s driver, and has been honing his skills for the past few months. The action in the field of play can be compared to a video game brought to life, Amren said, noting that video games are popular among many robotics enthusiasts.

Amren said he takes science courses at school “but they’re nothing like robotics.” “It’s just a whole different universe where you get immersed in a bunch of unique things that a lot of schools don’t really offer.”

Garrett said he drew on his experience in Physics 12 to deal with applications for springs and other key parts of the robot.

Nicholls said some students join with non-science interests, ranging from business to theatre.

“There’s a lot of different things they have to do on the team,” she said. “They have to present to judges and learn communication skills and time management. It’s not just the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] skills that they’re learning.”

She said the team will tack on a few days to the Australian journey and do some sightseeing — which is expected to include a jaunt to Cairns.

Amren has a couple of ideas about what to do on the trip. “I would like to see a kangaroo and probably go snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.

Nicholls said the team has had support from several local sponsors and is still fundraising for the trip. It’s reached about $10,000 of the $20,000 fundraising goal, and donations continue to be accepted at a GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/f/help-team-fix-it-compete-in-australia.

The team has also received some federal funding to run a robotics camp in August for Tsawout First Nation youth.

jbell@timescolonist.com

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