Garibaldi robotics club team captain Ali Hakam and Sam Trenciansky who does all the wiring for the robot say the project is fun but challenging. (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)

Garibaldi club building a robot

Competition ignites a passion for science and tech

It’s not exactly R2D2 just yet, but the new robotics team at Garibaldi secondary has an ambitious project in the works.

The team captain and inspiration is Ali Hakam, who was part of the robotics club in his old school in California before he moved to Maple Ridge.

The team’s robot won the First Robotics regional championships for Los Angeles, and advanced to the world championships in Houston, Texas, which was like the Superbowl of robotics with some 8,000 people attending.

Hakam was zapped by the robotics bug.

“I like the real-world experience and problem solving in building something like this, that you might find in the real world.”

The competition sees high school teams go head-to-head with robots they have designed, built and programmed.

“So far we’ve finished all of our electronics, we’re working on our pneumatics, so we can have automated actions on the robot,” said Hakam. “And we’re about to work on our mechanism to start lifting the power cubes … “

He grabs a milk crate wrapped in fabric.

“Our robot is supposed to be designed to be able to take these off the ground from anywhere, and move them to certain locations, whether it’s six feet up in the air, or 18 inches up, or a slot in the wall – we have to be able to move these as fast as we can, as many times as we possibly can in two and a half minutes.”

Hakam was blown away by how much his California team accomplished.

“Last year, I spent at least 1,000 hours doing stuff like this. Robotics is really my passion since then.”

So far, the Garibaldi group has built a base that boogies along, powered by four electric motors, at a clip of 20 km/h. More importantly, the team has several motivated cells of students working on every aspect of the project.

Trevor Fox, Megan Matheson and Jacob Dusseault work on a digital image of an ancient Egyptian-style eye, that will be used for branding on team uniforms, in social media, and on their robot.

Arden Baumgartener is working with a laptop and Playstation controller, attempting to program robot movements into the controller.

Sam Trenciansky has experience building electronics, and he is doing all the wiring.

Anna Pattie is doing the website and soliciting donations.

Shannon Labbe is handling social media.

Everybody has a role.

Overseeing the project is Niko Skartvedt, a science and math teacher. He said the new club has attracted kids who like tech, art students, shop kids, and a unexpected number of band kids are playing their part.

“It’s everyone who has creativity or a drive to make something work,” he said.

They have six weeks, from Jan. 6 to Feb. 20, to build their ’bot. There are about 24 kids in the club, and a core group of 10 are there every day, working on the project.

“It’s student driven,” said the teacher. “They do all the designing, all the building, all the bolting, screwing and all the creative work.”

Surprisingly, they are mostly Grade 8s and 9s.

In his first robotics club experience, Skartvedt is impressed with the quality of work kids do, and their resiliency when they encounter failure. Which is often.

“Whenever something doesn’t work, they have to make it work.”

Skartvedt is a support and an advisor, but he isn’t having to roll up his sleeves.

“This has been my first year doing a robotics club, and I’ve been so surprised with how the students are able to drive everything here, and how much they can do without my necessary involvement,” he said.

“I thought I might be building a robot, but I’ve done almost no work on the actual robot. It’s all student driven – student designed and student built,”

The job of the robot will be to lift, push and otherwise manipulate the cube objects to score points. Kind of like animated favourite Wall-E.

Opposing teams’ robots will be able to block or impede their robot, without actually entangling or “attacking” it.

First Robotics (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) sponsored the Garibaldi team a $6,000 starter kit, and members have since solicited another $3,700 from local businesses for the project.

“It will be an expensive robot,” said Skartvedt.

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