Monday, March 07, 2016

High School Engineering Contests as the REAL Future of Innovation

          By Chuck Black

Ryerson on Saturday. Photo c/o Heather Young.
There was a time, back in the 1980's, when the Canadarm was the pinnacle of robotics technology and innovation could be jump started by adding a few tens of millions of dollars to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) budget.

Those days are long past.

Anyone looking at the future of innovation and robotics today needs to start with events like the 2016 Greater Toronto Central Regional First Robotics Contest, which was held at Ryerson University in Toronto from March 2nd to March 5th.

As outlined in the March 4th, 2016 Toronto Star article, "Students gather at Ryerson for robot wars," teams from more than 40 different high schools spent six weeks building and designing robots to compete in a series of medieval themed match-ups designed to test their creations' capabilities and have a little fun.

The event, organized by First Robotics Canada, a registered charity established in 2001 and incorporated in 2004, is intended to inspire Canadian high school and elementary school students to pursue further studies and careers in science, technology and engineering.

Sponsors for the event included the Argosy Foundation, Boeing, Bruce Power, Dow Chemicals Canada, Hatch Engineering, Magna International, NASA, the Power Workers Union, the Ontario Ministry of Education, Redpath, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Rockwell Automation, Scotiabank, Synnex Canada, Union Gas, Xerox, a half dozen Canadian universities and quite a few others.

The crowded pit area where 40 teams prepared their machines to run the obstacle course. As outlined in the event program, teams work together in groups of three to breach a series of defined fortifications and "fire boulders" through goal posts in order to obtain points which determine the final winner. Photo c/o Heather Young.

Individual teams also received sponsorships from a variety of organizations including GM Canada, Qualcomm, RBC Wealth Management, Union Gas and others, which makes sense given that individual teams generally need to raise 10's of thousands of dollars in order to successfully compete.

The sponsors are happy to contribute because it gives them first look at Canada's next generation of manufacturing and robotics innovators. As outlined in the August 18th, 2013 post, "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs in Space!" a substantial portion of our current engineering workforce is nearing retirement age, and will need to be replaced over the next few years.

The event isn't even all that unique. It was simply one of approximately 125 equivalent events organized by First Robotics (seven of which are expected to take place in Canada) for elementary and high school students interested in robotics.

Typical of the robots entered into the competition is this 114.5 pound machine built over a six week period by students at the Runnymede Robotics Club, which operates out of the Runnymede Collegiate Institute in Toronto, Ontario, and which is sponsored by Thales, local Optimist and Lions clubs and others. From left to right the video shows Runnymede students Brent Watling, Brennan Stanfield, Rishab Bhatt, mentor Kelly Wilson and driver Keiran Wilson helping their 1310 unit engage its "tower scaling mechanism." The mechanism utilizes a compact scissor lift for scaling hook deployment, along with a dual motor winching mechanism and passive rope cleat restraints in order to prevent the robot from falling back to Earth at the end of the demonstration. Video c/o Jana El Aridi. 

As outlined on the March 9th, 2014 First Robotics post, "2016 FIRST Robotics Scholarships for Ontario Universities!," there are also multiple universities and colleges in Ontario that offer scholarships to graduating students participating in the FIRST Robotics Competition.

The charity also has the support of the public sector. As outlined on their website, "in April 2010, the Province of Ontario announced that it would make a grant of $3Mln CDN to FIRST Robotics Canada over five years to offer its programs to school boards across Ontario. In 2011 the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario announced at grant of $1.5Mln CDN over three years."

Chuck Black.
So while it's nice to hope that the Federal government can solve all our problems, it's also worth noting that the next generation of Canadian entrepreneurs and engineers is in good hands, no matter what the mandarins in Ottawa might happen to decide over the next two weeks.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this great article, Chuck.

    I believe you are right that the future of engineering is growing up with the FIRST program - "sport for the mind".

    The program needs all the press it can get.


    Richard McMullin, P.Eng.
    Programming Coach - Runnymede Robotics


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