Bruce Power hosts kick-off
for FIRST Robotics Challenge

By Liz Dadson


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The Kincardine District Secondary School Kinetic Knights and their mentors cheer after the announcement of this year's FIRST Robotics Challenge, during the kick-off at the Bruce Power Visitors' Centre Saturday
photo by Melanie Cooper

The Kincardine District Secondary School Kinetic Knights are pumped and ready to start building their robot for the 21st annual FIRST Robotics Challenge, "Rebound Rumble."

About 40 students, from Grades 9-12, are on Team 781 and most of them were at the kick-off Saturday at the Bruce Power Visitors' Centre, along with regional FIRST Lego League teams, and teams from high schools in Stayner and Angus.

The launch, via webcast from Manchester, New Hampshire, featured FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) founder Dean Kamen, and a host of other celebrities.

This year's challenge centres on basketball, and the robots will have to shoot as many basketballs into the hoops as possible during each two-minute-and-15-second match. Bonus points will go to the team that balances its robot on a teeter-totter at the end.

At the kick-off, teams each received a kit of parts made up of motors, batteries, a control system, a PC, and a mix of automation components, but no instructions.

Working with adult mentors, students have six weeks to design, build, program and test their robots to meet the season's engineering challenge. Once the robots are completed, the teams participate (often in Alliances with other teams) in competitions that measure the effectiveness of each robot, the power of collaboration, and the determination of the students.

Kamen said the challenge is about more than just building the best robot.

"I don't think any great innovator or technologist got up in the morning trying to do something really big, really innovative, because he wanted a job," he said. "If we create a generation of passionate, smart, well-educated, informed kids, willing to take educated risks as they try new things. If we create a passionate generation that understands the power of technology and how to apply it, trust me, they'll have jobs.

"That's the consequence of what they'll have. If FIRST succeeds, we'll have a rebirth of a society that believes in a future that can, and has to be, better than the past. We're going to make sure we build a 21st Century, a future that's way more exciting than the 20th Century."

He also urged the teams to promote the "FIRST" name throughout the competition.

The KDSS Kinetic Knights, Team 781, are sponsored by Bruce Power. The company has supported the team since its inception 11 years ago and was on hand Saturday to present the group with a cheque for $15,000.

Bruce Power will continue to support the team through the season, with help from employee mentors, and will further assist with costs to travel to the international competition in the United States should the team win in Canada, as it did last year.

Co-captains Tawny Robinson (administration) and James Jackson (build) are looking forward to a great year in the competition. This is Tawny's third year with the Kinetic Knights, while it's James' fourth year.

Tawny said the basketball challenge was a bit of a surprise because she was expecting it to be similar to last year when the final part of the competition involved a mini-bot racing to the top of a pole. Her job is to ensure all the administration work is completed.

James said the team will harness some of the best ideas from previous years to come up with a superb robot for Team 781. "We'll be working every day after school and on snow days too," he said. "We have six weeks to finish it and then it's packed away until the competitions."

Derick Phillips of Wasaga Beach is a great proponent of the FIRST robotics challenge. He started a team in Stayner six years ago when he was teaching there. Now teaching at Nottawasaga Pines Secondary School in Angus, he has formed a robotics team there as well. Stayner principal Jane Seymour has taken over the robotics team at that school.

"We have about 20 kids at the Angus school who want to try this," said Phillips. "It's going to be a real challenge since we're a rookie team."

This is Stayner's sixth year in competition and it has 17 students on the team.

Anna Chantler of the Stayner team is looking forward to the challenge and getting more involved with building the robot.

Sylvia Vledder of the Angus team saw her sister working on the challenge with Stayner last year and can hardly wait to start putting together the robot with the fledgling Angus group.

Bruce Power has been hosting the kick-off for almost a decade. This is the first year the Lego League teams have been invited. Following the webcast, the students enjoyed pizza and then started brainstorming on how to tackle the "Rebound Rumble" challenge.

The competitions begin in the spring. Last year, the KDSS Kinetic Knights went all the way to the world finals in St. Louis, Missouri, where their Alliance placed second.


Co-captains Tawny Robinson (L) and James Jackson hold up a shirt from previous a Kinetic Knights competition, at the kick-off to the 2012 FIRST Robotics Challenge Saturday at the Bruce Power Visitors Centre

KDSS Kinetic Knights, FIRST Lego League teams and students from Stayner and Angus enjoy pizza and snacks, courtesy of Bruce Power, at the kick-off Saturday. photo by Melanie Cooper

Derick Phillips (L) and Sylvia Vledder of the Angus robotics team, and Anna Chantler and Jane Seymour of the Stayner team get information at Saturday's kick-off

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