Call it the battle of the Woolwich bots, as EDSS and Woodland Christian High School squared off as finalists at the Ontario District robotics competition in North Bay last weekend. It would be the Elmira school that emerged victorious.
The two Woolwich teams went head-to-head over the weekend as both qualified for the final rounds of the competition in North Bay, which saw 33 schools from across the province pit their robotic creations in a series of challenging tasks and games.
“It started out a little bit bumpy again like Waterloo,” said Andrew Veldhuis, a mentor with the Woodland robotics team, the CyberCavs. “Our first few matches we had a few issues that we had to iron out, but immediately following the rough start, we immediately started performing well beyond my expectations. And to the point where I think we were one of, if not the best performing machine there.”
Both the CyberCavs and the EDSS team, Sir Lancerbot, had just competed in Waterloo the week before in another Ontario district competition that saw the CyberCavs rank fourth out of 32 teams and become an event finalist.
The EDSS contingent didn’t fare so well at the local competition, which was held March 21 to 23 at the University of Waterloo. The Elmira team placed a distant tenth in that competition; however, by the following weekend in North Bay, it was in topnotch condition, climbing the rankings to second place, and claiming the district event win.
“We ran reasonably well,” said EDSS robotics coach Ron Fletcher of the team’s performance in North Bay. “We improved on a lot of things from Waterloo that we continue to work on. So we had it dialed in pretty well we thought. We were ranked 10th out of 30 teams there when we went into the round robin, and we were picked by the second alliance.”
The stellar performance at the North Bay event, which was held at the Nipissing University from March 28 to 30, virtually assured both teams a berth to the Ontario championship event, which will be held two weeks from now in Mississauga.
Though the event win was definitely a moment to be proud of, Fletcher contends the real success of the robotics program is measured in the participating students, who pick up skills in engineering, programming, electronics and business throughout their involvement in the program.
“I say it to our mentors, ‘our product is not that,’” explained Fletcher, pointing to the bulky robot built by the team in just six weeks.
“And you always have to keep that in mind. That is just a means to develop that product,” he continued, indicating at the students behind robot. “The kids are our real product. That’s what we’re here for.”
It’s a sentiment borne out in graduates and alumni of the robotics program, like Veldhuis, who mentors the student members of the CyberCavs. Though now in a teaching and guidance role with the team, Veldhuis started his involvement with the CyberCavs as a student at Woodland.
“I’ve been on this team since it began,” said Veldhuis, who now studies management engineering at the University of Waterloo. Veldhuis was there when the team started in 2013, and continues to help the team thrive. The mentor credits the program with helping him find his own calling in his postsecondary education as an engineer.
“I think throughout high school, the thing I loved the most about it was this whole robotics thing,” said Veldhuis. “I couldn’t get enough of the competitions specifically, I love them so much. So when I went to university, I figured I still want to go back to the same team that I’ve helped create to how good [they’ve become] now.”
Similarly, with the Elmira team now in its fifth year, the robotics team has grown to about 50 members – one of the largest the school has had. Moreover, as the program ages, it’s starting to see a greater involvement from former EDSS students returning to the team as mentors. It’s a confirmation of the positive effect science and technology can have on the community.
“I feel that that is the message of FIRST [Robotics]. We’re not building robots, we’re building kids. And that’s really what it’s all about,” said Fletcher.