Garibaldi robotics club team members Ali Hakam and Sam Trenciansky.(THE NEWS files)

Garibaldi robotics club team members Ali Hakam and Sam Trenciansky.(THE NEWS files)

Garibaldi robot taking on the world

Maple Ridge robotics club going to the world championships

In just their first year building ‘bots, Garibaldi secondary’s robotics club will be competing in the world championships.

Fourteen students will travel to Texas to put their robot up against the best from around the planet on April 17.

And after an amazing experience with the club, they want to share their passion for technology, seeding new robot-building clubs at elementary schools in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

The rookie Garibaldi group was part of a three-team alliance that won the First Robotics Canadian Pacific Regional Competition in Victoria in March.

“Our robot is simple, has really good electrical, and really good design,” said Nico Skartvedt, who teaches sciences and math at Garibaldi, and is the club teacher.

He explained that in Victoria there were about 30 teams, and the top eight qualified for the playoffs. In order of their placement, the top teams were able to choose two other teams to join them in a three-team alliance, to determine the eventual champion.

The Garibaldi kids had a robot that executed one task very well, and knew they had a good chance of being picked. They were the last team chosen for an alliance, by the first-place team from Mississauga, Ont.

“It was a very emotional moment,” said one of the team’s student organizers Jacob Huska. “It was the last chance (to be chosen for an alliance), and it was the best team.”

Combining with teams from Mississauga and Surrey, they had three unbeatable ‘bots on the floor, piled up points, and cruised to victory.

“We made an impact,” said team member Jacob Dussault. “We went to the competition thinking ‘let’s show what we can do.’”

“It was exactly what we wanted to build,” said Skartvedt. “It was amazing to visualize what we wanted, build it, and then make it work.”

The First Robotics regionals are a competition, but the teams are also bonded by a spirit of camaraderie based on their common interests, and by the fact that any teams could eventually form part of the same alliance. If a team needs a part for their robot, another team will loan it to them.

The Garibaldi kids had a great time socially, and loudly cheering on their robot operators.

The team was founded when a kid from California with past experience in the First Robotics competition moved to Garibaldi, and inspired other kids to start a club there. But Ali Hakam moved back to the U.S. just weeks before the regionals, and left a big leadership void in the club. Fortunately three other students stepped up and kept the project rolling. They not only built a robot, they built a brand they call Iris Robotics for their club, complete with a website, social media pages, logos and hoodies. The team culture also includes a “cheer” that is an arms-extended gesture they call “praise the sun.”

Skartvedt said the Cinderella team from Garibaldi is a great story.

“We have the rights to a Disney movie,” he joked.

The average age of the club members is 14, so the team should set a good foundation for future builds and robotics competitions.

First, which is an acronym for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” is an international organization promoting tech awareness, and it also runs a First Lego League for elementary students, where they also compete with Lego-based robots of their own design. The Garibaldi team members want to help organize local First Lego League teams, and even help inspire other high schools to enter the First Robotics competition.

They are going to get a great experience, competing at Minute Maid Stadium in Houston for the First Robotics championships, and working in a NASA four in their trip.

The world championships is a huge event, with 1,400 teams representing over 60 countries, and more than 60,000 people will attend, and attending will be a great way for the club to end their first season.

“But it hasn’t felt like a finish line,” said Skartvedt. “It’s more of a springboard.”