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Celebrating engineering: Robots converging on area this weekend

Teams will earn points over the weekend that will go toward qualifying for the provincial championships in April

High school students from across Ontario are preparing to face off in an upcoming robotics competition. 

This is the first time FIRST Robotics is holding a qualifier event in Newmarket. It will be at the Ray Twinney Recreation Complex this weekend, March 3 to 5. 

FIRST is a not-for-profit organization founded about 30 years ago to celebrate engineering and innovation and to present robotics competitions in a way similar to sports games and concerts. 

A floor will be laid over the ice pads, and about 34 teams and their robots will work their way through various challenges, earning points along the way. 

While it is a competition, Paul Keenan of FIRST Robotics said it's an "encouraging environment". 

"Nobody boos, everybody cheers for everybody else. It's a great safe space for all kinds of kids that may not fit into some of the programs that are typical in high school," he said. 

One of the teams competing is Newbotics, which is made up of students from Pickering College and Sacred Heart Catholic High School. 

Andrew Boyes and Tom Mellary are the lead mentors and have been with the team since it was formed in 2019, when their own sons were part of it. 

"For a lot of [the students], it’s their first exposure to building something like this, on this kind of scale with this more advanced functionality,” Boyes said. “This is the first chance that they’ve had to have hands-on building something like this.”

He said the students have a lot of creativity and, as a mentor, he is able to help them channel it. 

Mellary agreed that robotics helps build skills. 

"They see that nothing works the first time. They have to go through an iterative process of learning what works and what doesn’t work, leaning on each other to get ideas, and being able to talk to mentors about different things we can do to solve the problem," he said. 

While Newbotics has been active for almost four years, this will be the team's first time competing due to the pandemic. 

Team member Stella Yuan said that makes her slightly nervous about the upcoming competition. 

"I’m feeling kind of worried, but I trust my teammates. It’s all our first times being on the robotics team but we try our best,” she said. 

Even if they don't win, she added, "We’re still feeling OK because we’re the rookies." 

Yuan, a Grade 12 student at Pickering College, joined the team because she is planning to study engineering science in university next year. 

Yuan said she has learned a lot and developed new skills.

The students have been meeting for about nine hours every week since January to build their bot. 

"We put a lot of efforts into it so far,” Yuan said. "This is our product. We cherish it. We hope it goes well.” 

The competition is open to the public to attend and Keenan said they are typically pretty popular. He said he expects to fill all the seats at Ray Twinney. 

The teams will earn points over the weekend that will go toward qualifying for the provincial championships in April. From there, teams can go onto compete in the regional championships and even the world championships. 

The competition also serves as a chance to get more students interested in STEM subjects and in robotics. 

It is free to attend and there is no registration required, however, Keenan said everyone will be required to wear masks. 





Elizabeth Keith

About the Author: Elizabeth Keith

Elizabeth Keith is a general assignment reporter. She graduated from Carleton University with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2017. Elizabeth is passionate about telling local stories and creating community.
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