The Digby Regional High School Robotics Club has qualified for the World Robotics Championships in Michigan.
They finished fourth at the Robot Programming Competitions, Robofest 2014, at Acadia University on Saturday, Feb 15.
DRHS physics teacher and coach for the club. Tim Mollins. said he and club members Katie Milne, Felipe Rios, Murray Bishop and Arda Kayral were surprised and excited to learn they had qualified to attend and participate in the World Championships in May.
“There was a wow factor going on here with us when it registered that we had done much better than we had thought,” said Milne.
“This was the club’s first year to compete and we thought it would be good to go for the experience and have fun,” said Rios. “We had no real expectations of advancing any further.”
The students missed the awards ceremony because they left early – they had been up all night the night before at the graduation lockdown event at DRHS.
“I received an e-mail Monday saying we had advanced to the World Championships,” said Mollins.
Robofest 2014 wil be held at Lawrence Tech in Southfield, Michigan May 16-17.
The Jodrey school of Computer Science at Acadia University has partnered with Robofest of Lawrence Technological University who has developed a programming challenge for high school students, which tests their ability to develop algorithms to solve certain specific problems.
Robofest 2014 at Acadia included schools from all over the province and involved the designing and programming of a Lego robot to complete a number of tasks within a time limit.
Mollins said the team had to program their robot which they unofficially named ‘Manhattan Project” to take a tennis ball, manoeuvre around the table, drop the ball in a box and come back to home base.
“This had to be completed twice within two minutes and while our robot could complete each task, it wasn’t fast enough,” said Mollins. “With one dimension given, the robot had to calculate the volume of the box and display the answer for the judge but the team ran out of time.”
“If we’d had another week to prepare we’d have done much better,” said Milne. “But we were on a major time crunch.”
As the February competition date neared the students became more focused and motivated.
“In the fall, the team had not made much progress and the urgency to get things completed wasn’t strong until after Christmas when they realized time was short,” said Mollins
Mollins said he became interested in the Lego robots and programming at an Association of Science Teachers provincial in-service a couple of years ago. Then when Acadia providing incentive to form a club by offering the free robot kits, he started the club.
“The stipulation was that you form a club, sign a contract to say you will use the kit but you don’t have to be in the competition at the university,” he said. “Last year the team built a robot but they didn’t have a program to make it work.”
Last fall computer programming training sessions were set up at Acadia and Rios said that while the team was in the basic stages they were further ahead than what they thought.
“The training sessions were instrumental in focusing our attention on what needed to be done,” said Rios.
Milne agreed saying the sessions showed the team the reality of the competition, what it was going to be and what we needed to accomplish.
“Now that the Acadia Robofest is over and they are moving on, the students are very motivated,” said Mollins.
“While they have the capability to increase the robot’s speed and find the volume of the box, they are faced with the huge challenge of raising the funds to get to Michigan in May.”
The team is responsible for funding their airline tickets and other travel expenses and Mollins says that amounts to several thousand dollars.
“We have a lot of work to do.”
Mollins had high praise for the team and what they achieved.
“This is an amazing opportunity for these students and goes to show what great things students from small town high schools in Nova Scotia can accomplish.”