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KES Robotics Club comes first in national competition after disaster averted, heading to worlds

The winners of the World Robotic Olympiad pictured in Montreal – the KES team was the only team outside of Ontario and Quebec, placing first.
The winners of the World Robotic Olympiad pictured in Montreal – the KES team was the only team outside of Ontario and Quebec, placing first.

WINDSOR, N.S. – Fully programmed and ready to go, robots whirl around a vinyl game board, attempting to move and arrange blocks with precision and finesse.

After weeks and months of intense coding and late nights of robot building, a scrappy team from King’s-Edgehill School in Nova Scotia ended up placing first against 12 other teams from Quebec and Ontario during the Canadian qualifier for the World Robotics Olympiad in Montreal.

Vaishnavan Somasekaram, 17, a Grade 12 student at King’s-Edgehill School, was one of the participants. He said it was an incredible experience for him and his fellow teammates.

“I did feel quite a bit of pressure going into that tournament, yeah,” Somasekaram said. “I don’t know about the other guys.”

The team, which also included Jacob Liu, Tom Wang, Calvin Shen, Jeff Zhang, and Evan Xie, prototyped for weeks before the competition, getting their design and code just right, which involved a lot of late nights.

Once the actual game begins, they have to hope that all of their planning pays off.

The KES team hovers around the game table where their robot is operating during the competition in Montreal.

“We weren’t allowed to change the code during the game itself, it had to be submitted beforehand,” he said. “The robot has to perform based on that.”

They ran into a bit of a hiccup during the competition, too, which only added to the intensity.

“Before we started the second round, the code was just gone,” he said. “We didn’t know what happened.”

What made it worse for the KES team was that they focused on setting things up in the first round to capitalize on the second round – meaning they had zero points going into the second.

It could have been a disaster.

But, they convinced the organizers to allow them to re-input the code to complete the second round.

In the end, they won with the most points.

All of the other teams that participated in the Canadian qualifier came from Ontario and Quebec, with the exception of the KES team, making their victory all the sweeter.

“It was so nerve-wracking,” he said. “It was great though.”

Bonding over robotics

Somasekaram said he developed a close connection with the five other members of the team – all of which are students from China. Somasekaram is originally from Sri Lanka.

J DeCoste, King’s-Edgehill School teacher of math, physics and robotics, and Vaishnavan Somasekaram, 17, who participated in the World Robotic Olympiad in May.

“I actually started trying to learn a bit of Chinese to, like, communicate with them a bit better. I consider them close friends now,” he said.
“I just like seeing how two different groups can work independently and unified at the same time, it’s kind of amazing for me.”

DJ DeCoste, who teaches of math, physics and robotics at King’s-Edgehill School, said he was searching for new competitions to test out his student’s skills.

“It’s a huge task for them to put together the code and the robot itself,” DeCoste said. “Eventually they take it to the game and tweak it a little bit. But, once it’s in the compound area… they can only press go.”

DeCoste, who started the robotics program at KES, said robotics brings math and physics into the real world.

“In robotics, students are given a challenge… and it’s up to them to meet those tasks,” he said. “That means a team is broken into small groups to take this on. It’s how real operations function.”

And it’s great to see the result.

“Kids are hungry for this type of learning, I just stand back and don’t do anything,” he said. “I just watch with amazement at what these guys do.”

With the Montreal competition behind them, the KES team has earned the right to represent Canada at the World Robotic Olympiad in Costa Rica in November, 2017 against 55 other countries.

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