WIIKWEMKOONG—Starting out three years ago with little more than a handful of borrowed tools and a box full of donated gears and motors, but steeled with plenty of dogged determination, Wikwemikong First Robotics Team 5672 quickly grew into a force to be reckoned with. This year, thanks in part to support from Microsoft, the team is competing in two of the 2017 First Robotics Competition events.
One thing that makes the Wikwemikong team unique among its colleagues is that each of its components is led by a female team member.
This year’s team, which has a large complement of rookie members on its roster, has just completed the first of those events hosted at Durham College’s Oshawa campus. Held from March 3 to 5 the 2017 First Robotics Competition Ontario District event attracted more than 1,000 students on 41 teams.
This year’s team is composed of Trinity Jacko, Angel Peltier, Alex Desmoulin, Jason Mishibinijima, Annie Wemigwans, Reynold Assiniwe, Tim Pitawanakwat, D.J. Maiangowi, David Jackson, Mikaila Dokum-Trudeau, Eileen Letander-Trudeau, Geordan Lewis, Amber Smith and Grey Neganegijig.
FIRST is an acronym denoting “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.”
This year’s games, in which robotic creations compete for top honours by demonstrating their engineering skills and knowledge through their robotic surrogate, is a steampunk inspired series of challenges that centre on launching a steam-powered airship.
“There were three main tasks that had to be completed, noted Wikwemikong High School teacher Chris Mara, the team’s coach. The machine, which operates autonomously to complete its tasks through pre-programming and sensors, had to collect a set of five-and-a-half inch wiffle balls (aka steam), fire those balls into a bin to provide the “steam pressure” lift and deliver a set of gears to a human assembler, who prepared the steampunk vessel for liftoff, and even climb aboard via a rope. As the gears are put in place, they engage rotors on the steamship, with four rotors spinning, the craft is considered airborne.
The team placed 32 in the elimination round, although their position seesawed up and down the rankings throughout the competition. “Of the teams from the North, we ranked the highest,” noted Mr. Mara.
The team’s creation was a good all-round competitor, but other teams specialized more in the single aspect of delivering gears to the human assembler. The 5672 creation was a great climber, noted Mr. Mara, and it delivered a high volume of steam pressure.
“This has been a real learning experience,” said Mr. Mara. “This is the first year that the robot operated in autonomous mode, without a human driver.
The teacher expressed great admiration for the dedication of his team. “The students spent hundreds of hours, spending their weekends 10 to 10 working on the project,” he said. The result is a “new improved robot.”
By the end of the competition in Oshawa, however, one alliance, comprised of three Peel Regional School Board teams working together, was victorious. Those teams 1285 (The Big Bang), 4939 (Allspark9) and 4946 (The Alpha Dogs), will be competing at the Ontario District Championships at the beginning of April and then, if successful, will head to the World Championships in St. Louis at end of that month.
The Wikwemikong robotics team is preparing for its next round of competitions in April at Nippissing University in North Bay.
If there is one thing hampering the Wikwemikong Robotics Team’s success it is its rural location. There simply are not a lot of large corporations in the region to tap as sponsors, but Mr. Mara stressed the team’s gratitude for the sponsorships they have on board.
“Metal Supermarkets once again has provided both material and financial core support,” said Mr. Mara. “This year we have added Jazz Solar, which develops community scale solar power systems, along with Microsoft, Xerox, and RBC Wealth Management. The Economic Club of Canada has also provided generous support. SNO Lab and TestMark Labs have provided material and financial support. We have received generous local support by way of Loco Beanz, Manitowaning, Wikwemikong Health Centre, Debajehmuhjig, Burns Wharf Theatre Players, Patsy’s Catering and White’s Garage have all graciously provided material assistance.”