Students, robots and provincial competitions

Ana DuCristea
December 16, 2021

The thrill of team competition: working for hours every week towards a common goal, preparing for tournaments, making lifelong friends, your heart beating with stress and excitement as you compete in matches, and having your hard work recognized.

You may think that I’m describing something like a hockey or volleyball team. In fact, I’m describing my experience as a member of NEO Robotics – a student-led robotics organization competing in the VEX Robotics Competition (VRC).

When I first joined team 2405Z of NEO Robotics, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d attended two team meetings to see what they were up to, and they showed me their initial robot design as well as this season’s competition game. I was impressed by how they designed and modified a lift for the robot, and they sold me on joining when they told me there were mandatory autonomous driving periods for the robot during which they planned on using sensors to navigate.

Any initial worries I had about being a new member were quickly forgotten about. Within the first meeting, my input was valued, and I was welcomed and thrown headfirst into the design process. During the three months that I’ve been a member of NEO Robotics, my team has analyzed drive gear ratios and wheels to optimize the robot’s drivetrain, written odometry functions in C++, planned usage for a vision sensor during autonomous periods, designed and created intakes and lifts, analyzed match strategies, and more (all documented in our engineering notebook). It always hurts when we have to scrap a design or plan, but it gives immense satisfaction to make something that works better than its previous iteration.

On December 4 and 11, we participated in the first two VRC tournaments in Calgary and Edmonton. I had no idea how exciting and scary an actual tournament would be, as we were kept on our toes the whole day dealing with mechanical and software failures, strategizing, documenting our matches, and attending the judges’ interview.

In Edmonton, we made it to the quarterfinals and won the Design Award, and in Calgary we made it to the final match and won the Excellence Award, qualifying us for provincials!

One benefit of NEO Robotics being entirely student-led is that members get to experience more than what they’d normally get out of VEX. We’ve researched and written grant applications and done a sponsorship presentation, gaining us the generous support of Arcurve and the IEEE Canadian Foundation. Some members also mentor the robotics club at Sir Winston Churchill High School. Our website at https://neorobotics.ca is 100% student-created, and even our finances are managed and organized by students.

We all expected that we would learn a bit and have fun when we joined NEO Robotics, but now we know that we are learning skills and making friends that will be valuable for a long, long time. STEM can be exciting, and even exhilarating for teens.

A huge thank you to Arcurve for supporting us, as well as the IEEE Canadian Foundation!

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