The robots aren’t taking over yet, but the students building them seem to be.
The robotics program that is run out of Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School has quickly grown since it was launched last year. It’s become big enough that teacher Mike Milliard has dubbed it the PF Robotics Academy.
“When we made the decision (to start the program), received the funding to purchase equipment and then put out the word to see the level of interest, I didn’t expect it to grow so fast,” Milliard said.
The program went from having two high school teams last year to three this year. It also started a junior robotics program, with five teams comprised of students in grades 6 to 8 from four elementary schools in the area.
It didn’t take long for students to make an impression on the provincial robotics scene. Earlier this year, in its first year as a club, the team took part in its first provincial competition. The students wanted to finish in the top 25. They surpassed those expectations, taking a fifth-place finish, becoming the first team in VEX Robotics competition history to qualify for provincials in its inaugural year.
Milliard expects the program to keep growing as interest among students isn’t waning.
“It’s the fact that the kids can code, they can build something and make it work,” Milliard said. “They think of themselves as inventors.”
The program received a boost when the Orillia Manufacturers’ Association provided funding last year for the purchase of equipment.
“It allowed us to advance to the point whereby we could build a robot that could compete at the provincial level,” Milliard said. “Without that funding, there would have been no way we could have produced these bots that could compete at that level.”
He said the school will be approaching the association again to apply for more funding.
Members of the public will be able to see what all the hype is about when Patrick Fogarty hosts the Orillia VRC/VIQ Qualifying Tournament Dec. 8 and 9. It’s a provincial qualifier, so there will be teams from around Ontario taking part. It will be a good time for the public, particularly parents, to experience robotics competition.
“They can get exposure to what we have to offer to the kids not just at the school but in the community,” Milliard said. “This will show them the level of competition and the opportunities available to the kids.”
The competition will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.