Manitoulin robotics teams compete at FIRST Ontario district event

Manitoulin Secondary School students pose with their Judge’s Award for Environmental Stewardship, Innovation, Vision, Safety and Leadership.

Manitoulin Secondary School team earns prestigious judge’s award

BARRIE – The Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) and Wikwemikong High School (WHS) FIRST Robotics teams both competed at the Georgian College competition in Barrie earlier this month, with the WHS team First Nations STEM 5672 making it as far as the quarter finals and the MSS Manitoulin Metal 6865 team earning a prestigious judge’s award at the event.

“The kids dug deep; they had a few technical issues they were working through as we were going through the competition, but we were only able to make it that far with all the hard work of the students,” said First Nations STEM mentor Adrian Rampersad after the end of the competition.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics is an event that has steadily gained popularity during the past decade. It offers young students the opportunity to design, build, test and operate robots for various competitions. Team 5672 at WHS was the first FIRST team to arrive on Manitoulin Island and that team helped mentor and form the MSS team a few years later.

This year’s event took on a Star Wars theme and was called Infinite Recharge. Teams had to use their robots to pick up soft yellow balls (serving as power cells) scattered about the playing surface and for the first 15 seconds, they had to operate autonomously—yes, these high school students had to program a form of artificial intelligence into their robots.

Following the self-driving portion, drivers take over for a “tele-operated” portion of two minutes and 15 seconds to continue gathering the power cells and shooting them into the various targets. There was an additional component with a colour wheel at which teams had to either spin the wheel a certain number of times or position it to a specific colour.

Then comes the endgame, where all robots convene at a central point with what looks like a giant metal coat hanger. The robots have to extend a hanging device and pull themselves off the ground—bonus points if all three robots get off the ground and they are positioned to be level.

Six robots took to the court at any one time and were divided on either a red or a blue alliance. The alliance with the most points at the end of each match got closer to moving forward to the next round.

The competition was steady for Wiikwemkoong’s robot Biabco Nimoosh, which translates to Iron Dog. First Nations STEM’s autonomous system performed well and helped with their rankings as they proceeded through the qualifier. They ended up only one spot away from being the alliance captain during the finals. As they prepared for the quarter finals they had to rebuild both their climbing mechanism and ball intake. They only managed to last two rounds into the quarter finals before their run had officially come to an end, although the team said there were significant moments of triumph throughout.

“We finally got our climber going for the second round of the quarter finals. Seeing it finally get off the ground was pretty amazing,” said First Nations STEM driver Aiden McCormick.

The team also worked hard in the pits to keep theirs and other robots working in top condition and find ways to improve their systems for the future rounds.

“We found out a lot of flaws in the systems for our robot, so what I took from here is we really need our elevator working every time so we can climb up and get higher in the rankings. We also need our intake to be more reliable,” said Aiden.

On the Manitoulin Metal side, team captains Lindsay Sheppard and Jocelyn Kuntsi said the weekend offered plenty of learning opportunities and the satisfaction that their robot stayed alive all weekend, meaning other teams often had to rely on their reliable construction to score points. The Metal’s robot was named L.Y.N. in an homage to the names of the team’s mentor, members and its home base on Manitou(L.Y.N.) Island.

Lindsay said she started driving at the beginning of the weekend but soon switched up to allow some first-year students take the controls.

“I thought they should have the chance and understand what it’s all about. I was the drive coach so I taught them how to go and helped them pick up the balls and unload them. And I worked on strategy because every game has its own strategy, which makes it difficult,” she said.

In between competitions, Jocelyn and Lindsay made sure the team members were able to discuss their robot’s abilities in great depth with the judges.

“This year, as our business manager, I made handouts for the judges for the safety and entrepreneurship award. They would ask questions about those things and make sure we were completing safety procedures,” said Jocelyn.

The team did have issues with its lifting mechanism, which hampered its final outcome. Lindsay said she was also going to focus more on strategy for the next round of competition. One tactic that worked well this time was sending scouts to gather intel about other teams so they knew the strengths of their alliance partners as well as their adversaries.

“The best lesson we learned was that communications are key for a team. There’s talking to judges, talking while you’re in the event, making sure you can talk to other teams for things you need,” she said.

Lindsay added with a laugh that she was impressed by the shy first years who, after a little encouragement, found their voice and “won’t stop talking now.”

After some of the judge interviews, Jocelyn said the judges went back to their colleagues and brought other officials along to hear their safety and entrepreneurship presentations, something they took as a positive sign for their chances for a judge’s award.

Their hunch was right—in the end, the team won a prestigious judge’s award for environmental stewardship, innovation, vision, safety and leadership. They earned extra points for their environmental initiatives back at MSS such as their battery drive.

First Nations STEM 5672 ended the competition in 13th place while Manitoulin Metal 6865 ranked 29th. The District Chairman’s Award went to Team 865, a Toronto team that has been competing since 2002. First Nations STEM team member Aaryn Zoccole said it was a proud moment, despite the WHS loss, because Team 865 had been working hard at these competitions for decades.