Robot heaven—SAIT serves as prime land for high school students

Rex the Robot

High school students from the Alberta Technical Alliance (ATA) stand behind “Rex,” the robot they created. The team will be off to St. Louis for the World Championship from April 26 to 28. WHITNEY BUETTNER PHOTO

Robots are taking over SAIT, if what is transpiring in the Thomas Riley building is any indication.

Local high school robot gurus have been using SAIT as a training ground as they prepare for the World Robotic Championships, better known as FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics competition.

SAIT machinist instructor Jeff MacaRoy said that students, predominantly from Bishop Caroll High School, have practiced to run computer numerical control machines, computerized mills, print reading and a number of other skills directly or indirectly related to machining and engineering.

“This is obviously a way to encourage these students to come to SAIT. This portrays the school in a great way,” said MacaRoy.

The students are led by robotic wizard Alex Rodrigues who, at the age of 16, has already competed in the world championships twice.

Rodrigues handpicked the squad by looking for students who were competent in micro-tronics and had an interest in injecting life into pieces of metal.

He has been involved with the futuristic trade for a number of years explaining, “I started with building little Lego robots and then I went to the next level.”

SAIT instructor of manufacturing and automation Craig Maynard eventually scouted him out after searching for students who had a passion for artificial intelligence.

Rodrigues knew he could look to Maynard when he began searching for an appropriate place to build and practice.

SAIT was ideal, not only for the capacious area across from the Thomas Riley building, but also because of the vast human resources available.

The young protégé was quick to give Maynard praise saying, “He basically started robotics in the city. He has been teaching microtronics for around 20 years.”

Although MacaRoy and Maynard were both there to lend a hand to the students, MacaRoy insisted that the aid was limited.

“These guys did 90 per cent of the machinery. They needed a bit of guidance and then they were good to go,” he explained.

The team’s chief project “Rex” is a robot capable of shooting hoops and playing tough defence against his robotic peers in a high-tech version of basketball. Rex took six weeks to construct—the exact period of time allotted for teams to build their signature creations.

Rex’s stringent defence and balancing capabilities landed him second place in Oshawa at the regional championships earlier this year.

The high placement of Rex is the major reason why the crew is off to St. Louis to compete against the best the world has to offer.

Team member Andrew McCormick said that because the team is in its first year, they would be looking to take home one of the freshmen awards.

“Winning [the whole tournament] could be tough, but the rookie award is achievable and it would also be impressive,” he said.

The tournament transpires April 26 – 28 in St. Louis, Missouri.

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