Robotics competition is about more than just the robots

Mar 20, 2024 | Campus News, News

Humber College is the scene of the annual FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) where high school students showcase and compete with specially designed robots.

This event is part of a series of nine regional qualifying tournaments across Ontario, leading up to the provincial championship in early April.

President at FIRST Robotics Canada, Dave Ellis, told Humber News the tournament is about more than just building robots.

Ellis said FIRST Robotics is an acronym: “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

He said the goal of the events and the programs the organization runs is to inspire kids to think that science and technology are cool and fun and that it is a possible career to pursue.

The competition accepts youth aged 14 and up, from either school or community teams and invites them to design and build specialized robots to perform and compete in a special challenge.

“They get a challenge in January for this program,” Ellis said. “They find out what the challenge is, what the robot has to accomplish and then they design and build that robot and program it from January until March.”

The challenge changes every year.

This year, the challenge was under the theme Crescendo as part of an effort to integrate the Arts into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

“Now the acronym is S.T.E.A.M. So, they’re integrating the arts into that,” Ellis said. “Say, for example, a music concert: you go there and you enjoy the music, but in order for you to enjoy that music, there’s a ton of technology that goes into that event, right? From lighting to sound, pyrotechnics, all of that stuff is happening because of technology.”

To go along with that theme, the game pieces are foam rings that represent musical notes. The game involves robots picking up the notes either off of the carpet or given by a team member and then shooting or placing them in different locations on the field.

Teams compete in alliances of three vs three. That means six robots are on the field at a time and alliances mix and match throughout the event.

“One of the neat things about that is that it means that we have to communicate with each other because we’re going to be on an alliance,” Ellis said. “If your robot is really good and my robot’s not so good, and you see on your schedule that you’re going to be playing with me, you’re then incentivized to come and help me.”

“It becomes part of the culture of FRC is to help each other and the kind of idea of a rising tide lifts all boats, right? So it’s not just one team that gets really good, everybody gets better together,” he said.

To qualify for provincials, teams need to accumulate points. Points are given for performance and for winning awards.

Ellis said the biggest award is ”the first impact award, which is the team outreach and community work that they do generally STEM-related.

“So, often things like mentor younger kids on things or run summer camps or even reach out,” he said. “We’ve got one team that’s working on reaching out to a seniors’ home to engage their kids with the seniors’ group and get them engaged with technology as well.

“It also just gets more kids involved in the program and interested in science and technology, right? So there are some team attribute awards like that. How does the team work together? How do they communicate? How do they work through problems? Conflict resolution skills, all of those kinds of things,” Ellis said.

The Ontario District Humber College Event features 29 teams from the surrounding region. The 33rd season of the FRC has 3,468 teams from 28 countries around the world with more than 86,700 youth team members.