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Rookie team wins Robotics Competition

St. Robert Catholic High School’s “RetroRam” Robotics team put their gears in action, winning the championship and capturing the Rookie All Star award at the recent Greater Toronto West Regional, FIRST Robotics Competition, held at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, March 29- 31.

52 high schools competed at the event, which featured two alliances of three student-built robots, shooting hoops against each other, and performing other tasks, in a basketball style game called, Rebound Rumble. The schools were given a standard set of parts and game details at the beginning of January, and allowed six weeks to construct a competitive robot, that could operate autonomously, as well as by wireless controls, to accomplish the Rebound Rumble tasks.

“As a new team, the St. Robert RetroRam, team #4001, succeeded beyond anyone's expectations,” said Jennifer Sarna, Principal. “It’s unusual for a rookie team to even finish their robot, nevermind actually being selected to compete in the finals and to win.”

Teams first participate in a series of 10 qualification matches where alliances are randomly selected by a computer. A team’s opponent in one match may be their partner in the next. Teams are then ranked, individually, according to baskets scored, as well as their success in the balancing portion of the competition, where all three robots on one team try to balance on an unsteady bridge. The top 8 seeded teams choose two other teams to be on their alliance for the remainder of the competition

The RetroRam team’s decision to build a reliable, sturdy, compact and defensive robot was a very strategic one. “Our team wanted a robot that would be able to scoop and shoot balls, but also be attractive to the more accomplished teams which would need a reliable robot to team up with for the balancing component of the competition,” says Sarna.

“Our team was not only awarded the top Rookie All Star prize, but the compact, simple, yet effective design of our robot attracted the attention of the 6th-seeded team, who selected us to join their alliance. While teamed up with this alliance, we won the entire championship.”

The St. Robert CHS robotics team, comprised of 20 students and eight staff advisors, put forth a full effort, creating a website for the team, as part of their communications strategy, where you can also view photos and watch videos of the team’s journey. Watch the championship game.

The team was sponsored by Quanser Inc., a leading engineering company, based out of Markham that is dedicated to advancing engineering education and research. Quanser provided the school with funds, and its engineers acted as mentors to the students. Quanser also provided the team with use of its facility and equipment to build their robot. Physiotherapists, Striowski and Associates, also sponsored the team, providing funds and advice on safety, while an anonymous sponsor contributed $5,000 for the team.

Both the rookie award and the championship win earned the St. Robert CHS team the opportunity to compete in the International Rebound Rumble World Championships, being held in St. Louis, Missouri April 26-28. There, St. Robert CHS will not only represent itself and the York Catholic District School Board, but it will be one of the few Canadian teams at the competition, tipping off against robots built by secondary school students from across the globe.

Through the competition, and preparation for it, students honed many skills, including how to design and build a robot in a collaborative setting, and how to operate the robot to take on various roles, making it a team player. Students also developed a brand for their school’s robot to better promote their team and encourage school spirit. They also designed ‘swag,’ including wristbands, T-shirts and buttons, which they sold as part of their fundraising efforts. Select students acted as spokespersons for their team, meeting with judges and answering their questions in a manner that highlighted the team’s collaborative approach and professionalism, all while coping with intense pressure, noise and the chaos of robots shooting hoops.

Congratulations to the St. Robert RetroRam’s on their robotics win, and best of luck at the international championship later this month.