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Pair of Woolwich teams heading to FIRST Robotics World Championships

Living up to the Waterloo Region’s reputation as a centre of technology and innovation, two high school teams from Woolwich Township held their own at this weekend’s FIRST Robotics provincial competition.

EDSS and Woodland Christian High School both qualified for the world level First Robotics Championships in Detroit next week, while EDSS emerged as the Ontario Technology Division champs.

For EDSS’ Team 4917, Sir Lancerbot, the season has been a tremendous success thus far. The team swept the district level competitions in Waterloo and North Bay earlier in the season, taking first place in both. And, after their strong showing at the Ontario contest, which was held over the weekend at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, the team is now ranked in third place in the province.

Not to be outdone, the comparatively smaller Woodland Christian High School, Team 4678, have nonetheless had a big impact on the robotics scene as well, ranking 19th in the province. Over the season, the CyberCavs made the semi-finals of every competition they competed in all the way into the provincials, notes the school’s principal John VanPelt.

“The kids are really happy with the way things have gone,” he said. “This has been a developing program and a fair amount of energy has been put into it, and we’ve seen quite exciting results over the last number of years as well.”

Just competing in the tournament, let alone making it to the world championships, is a tremendous feat as teams of high school students are granted just six weeks to design and build a fully fledged robot.

The machine has to be able to perform flawlessly at the competitions in a wide range of complex tasks, from lifting and arranging boxes to manipulating levers, to a climb portion that sees the 100-pound robots grab onto a ledge and hoist itself into the air. The robots are mostly remote controlled, but the teams are also tasked with making their creations behave completely autonomously during certain sections of the competition.

“There’s a lot of learning that goes into it,” noted VanPelt. “You’re looking at understanding design principles. You’re looking at understanding the basics of programming, of building, manufacturing. But there’s a whole host of softer skills like collaboration, problem-solving, critical thinking, that go into this as well.”

For EDSS coach Ron Fletcher, the change in students is marked as they start from scratch and see their ideas built from the ground up.

“I think first of all it really builds a certain amount of confidence,” said Fletcher. “It also is something where there’s a real sense of satisfaction that we did something. We started with a plan, we set objectives and we met those objectives. And it’s exciting when they come to fruition.”

He added, “There’s a lot of maturing that happens in the process and you do see a lot of that happen with team members. We’ve got a lot of first-year members on the team this year as well, so to have an experience like this for a first-time competition I think for them there’s that sense of, ‘wow, we had no idea.’”

Of course, both teams are excited too to be travelling to the Detroit competition, which is running from April 25 to 28 and will be host to almost 400 teams.

It was ultimately the kids that did the legwork, but Fletcher has to extend his gratitude to the entire community for helping get them there . “A huge, huge thank you to the community and so many of our local sponsors that support the team.”

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