Thursday, 16 January 2014 06:44

Great Plains College partners with robotics club in Swift Current

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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The efforts by the Great Plains College to promote an interest in the sciences and technology in the community has resulted in an agreement with the Swift Current Robotics Club.


The agreement was signed during an event at the Swift Current campus on Jan. 9, which included a demonstration of the robotics club's frisbee shooting robot that was built last year for the FIRST Robotics regional competition in Calgary.
Great Plains College Director of Development Marc Butikofer said the agreement is a first for the college.
“It's new for us, but hopefully we're going to have more of this in the future,” he said. “The connection with these young students and their desire to learn about technology is something we want to be connected with.”
Some of the Grade 9 to 12 students who are involved with the robotics club might study at the college in future year, but Butikofer considered the agreement to be part of the college's broader role in the community.
“Potentially, some of them will come and learn a program, potentially some of them won't, but for the community as a whole to have these young minds immersed in technology is something that is a benefit to us, because we're here to be able to help to move the community forward and education is a big pillar of what the community is all about,” he said.
Under the terms of the agreement the college will provide the robotics club with free of charge access to a classroom for meetings as well as space for the construction, testing and storage of their robots and equipment.
“Our role in helping the club is to give them a home,” he said. “They're going to have access to our trades lab, so working in the welding shop and our electrical lab to be able to have access to equipment there and then they’ll also be able to store their equipment here on an ongoing basis so that they don’t have to move it around or take it down at the end of the day.”
For the duration of the agreement, the robotics club will recognize the college as a visionary partner. The agreement, which also results in the creation of the Great Plains Robotics Club, will apply for a period of one year with an option to renew it. Subsequent renewals of the agreement will take place every second year.
According to Brent Neudorf, the Swift Current Robotics Club’s mentor and founding member, the agreement will have many benefits for them.
“This agreement is really going to help us stabilize our home and it will allow us to focus on the tasks of the club, which is to design and build a robot,” he said.
The process of creating a new robot will become more efficient as a result of their access to the college facilities. It will allow them to work simultaneously on different tasks, such as programming, electrical design or fabricating some of the physical components.
“So we can do all of these things simultaneously instead of in a linear fashion,” he explained. “It will help us speed up our build.”
He felt the agreement will also create greater public awareness about the club through its association with the college.
“The college is obviously a state of the art facility and so being part of that will help us maintain a level of community awareness, which is really important because we only survive because of donations from sponsors,” he said.
The club started in September 2012 and currently has 10 members. In April 2013, the club attended the inaugural Western Canadian FIRST Robotics Competition Regional in Calgary. They designed and built their frisbee shooting robot for that competition and finished eighth out of about 33 teams.
“We’ve done really good for a first year team because there were so many unknowns,” Neudorf said. “We had no experience in strategy. Things that we thought were important when we were building turned out not to be important because we had never seen a competition like this before. Having been there, all of the mentors and all of the students are much wiser and we’re able to now apply that wisdom into this year’s build.”
The club has already started building a robot for this year's competition, which will take place in Calgary from April 3-5.
Competition rules require them to design and build a robot within a six week period and it must be completed in early February.
This year's competition challenge is to construct a robot that is able to catch a two-foot diameter exercise ball from another robot, to pass a ball to another robot and to shoot a ball over a six-foot high bar. The teams will challenge each other during a two-day round robin match between the robots.
In addition to the performance requirements, the robots must adhere to various design specifications that determine the weight, size and other technical constraints of the machines.
“We have to design our robot to be as flexible and generic as possible because we don’t know how their robots are going to work and they don’t know how ours are going to work,” he said. “That is quite a challenge.”
Club members Anthony Rempel and Josh Nickel, who are both Grade 11 students, are excited about this year's construction challenge. Rempel joined the club shortly after it started and he has already learned a lot during last year's challenge.
“I have a good grasp of everything except for the programming,” he said. “That’s out of my league. Everything else I can go from wiring to electronics to full construction of the robot and design.”
He described last year's construction of the frisbee shooting robot as a unique experience and he enjoyed the strict time limits.
“It gives something a purpose to completely finish it in a timeline, like a workplace environment, where they wanted it the previous day,” he explained. “They wanted it done right away.”
Nickel joined the club this year after hearing about it from Rempel.
“I just thought the idea of helping making the robot would be fun, so I decided to join this year,” Nickel said. “So far I’ve learned a little bit of the programming and some of the design, like the design program. It’s been pretty fun so far, but I haven’t been in it for too long. So I plan on learning a lot more.”
For more detail about the activities of the Swift Current Robotics Club, visit their website at http://scrobotics.ca.

Read 2501 times Last modified on Wednesday, 15 January 2014 15:50

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