Dozens of budding scientists, engineers and inventors crowded an Orillia high school Saturday to show their ingenuity.
“I love everything we’re doing today,” said 11-year-old Shauna Bradt, a Grade 6 student at Monsignor Lee Catholic School as she and her partner, Lily Ouellette, worked on their robot at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School.
“This is my first year doing this. I really like the rounds when we’re going against other teams.”
Her friend Lily, who’s in Grade 7 at the Orillia school, is in her second year working with robotics.
“I like being here and meeting new people,” the 12-year-old said. “I like robotics and want to be a scientist when I’m older because I really like math.”
Hosted by PF Robotics, Saturday’s Orillia Manufacturers' Association VIQ elementary division qualifying tournament ran simultaneously with the Orillia Manufacturers' Association VIQ middle school qualifying tournament.
At day’s end, the top five teams from each division qualified for next year’s provincial championships. The main competition fields, as well as the robot skills fields, were held on raised platforms 18 inches above the floor to give the hundreds of spectators a better view.
“It’s an awesome day, just amazing,” said event co-organizer Mike Milliard, a teacher at Patrick Fogarty.
“They’re having a great day, doing their thing. We have some of the top teams in the province here once again. They’re creating their own designs from scratch.”
Featuring 63 teams from across Ontario, more than 250 participants in two divisions (Grades 2 to 5 and Grades 6 to 8) presented their robot creations as they took on others in skills and head-to-head teamwork competitions.
Milliard started the high school robotics team four years ago with area elementary feeder school students now participating in twice-weekly, after-school building and programming workshops.
He said robotics provides an important creative outlet for students who might not be as interested in sports or the arts.
“There are a group of kids who are serviced well through sporting events and there are a group of kids who are serviced well through arts’ events,” he explained.
“This is the group of kids who want to see how stuff works. They want to know what’s under the cover and how it works. Most of them are interested in inventing.”
Tina Fernando and her 11-year-old son, Mateo Gonzalez, travelled from Barrie for the competition.
“He likes figuring out how to do things,” Fernando said as Mateo tried out his robot in a practice area.
“It really exercises his mind. He learns by trial and error.”
Added Mateo: “When you build it, it’s almost like Lego. It’s lot of fun and always interesting.”
Five years ago, Dean Jacksch was involved with starting Simcoe County’s first robotics team (Barrie Techno Tigers Robotics).
Team members were busy throughout the day fine-tuning their designs and competing against other teams.
“I always liked building with Lego and my Dad told me about this,” said Techno Tiger eight-year-old Max Sopuch.
“I said ‘yay’ and I’ve been having fun with it ever since. When I grow up, I want to build a robot that does everything for you.”
Fellow team member Palmer Sutton, 10, said he was also encouraged to get involved.
“A few years ago, I was told I should try out a robotics club. Some of the designs we work on are really cool.”
Andrea Crawford, whose son Nolan is also part of the Tigers, said the students learn a lot of important lessons throughout the creative process.
“They work collaboratively and learn how to build and program something as a team,” the Oro-Medonte resident said. “They’re also learning about responsibility.”