Windsor-Essex high schools compete in FIRST Robotics Competition

by Kyle Reid

Local high schools from Windsor and Essex County flexed their robotic muscles last Friday and Saturday during the Windsor-Essex FIRST Robotics Competition held at the University of Windsor’s St. Denis Centre.  

The event featured 20 teams from Windsor and Essex County, along with 20 other Southwestern Ontario teams, that competed in the sixth annual Ontario District Windsor-Essex Great Lakes Event. In total, nearly 1,500 students competed in this year’s event.

The students showcased their design and engineering skills by competing in events that combined science and technology with the excitement of sports. On Saturday, fans inside the St. Denis Centre packed themselves onto bleachers, many wearing the colours of the team for which they were rooting.

As part of the competition, the students were required to design a team, build and program a robot, and practice the operation as a team to compete head-to-head with other schools.

This year, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, students were required to compete in a challenge called “Destination: Deep Space,” which required teams to navigate their robotic creation around a small field to place balls in containers in a race against other teams.

The Sabre Bytes Robotics team from Sandwich Secondary School in LaSalle was one of the first robotics teams to exist in Windsor-Essex, forming in 2002. Sandwich Secondary School student, Griffin Howson, who is participating on the team for his fourth year, is the team’s co-ordinator. He said he has noticed the local robotics scene has grown tremendously over his time with the squad.

“I’ve seen a lot of teams grow and flourish,” Howson said, noting that 18 of the 20 local teams formed only within the last six years.

The growth of local high school robotics is a great learning opportunity for students. While they get to practice design and engineering, they also must keep in mind safety goals, as well as the business aspect of robotics.

It costs each school around $3,000 to design and build their robot, not including travel costs and registration fees. That cost means students also have to recruit sponsors and raise money to fund the construction of their robot.

“Our robotics team is very much a business,” Howson said. “There is very much a side of the team that builds a robot and goes out to compete, but the business side of things is very big, too.”

Pitching their program to potential sponsors means the students must also exhibit strong interpersonal skills.

“I definitely went into the program just thinking it was just a resume builder,” Howson said. “But I can really say it’s been a person builder for me.”

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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