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Esquimalt students make the business case for robotics

School robotics teams tackle competition in Victoria this weekend

The robotics club at Esquimalt High runs like a well-tuned machine these days. Mentors and peers told teacher Tina O’Keeffe it would take about five years to see students gel.

The prediction was bang on.

“This is the first year they’ve been a true team. Everybody has a part in this robot,” O’Keeffe said.

The Esquimalt Atom Smashers are among the Greater Victoria high school teams that compete each year through For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) – an international youth organization that operates several robotics challenges and competitions. FIRST Robotics B.C. aims to inspire students to pursue studies and careers in related fields through challenges and competitions such as this weekend’s FIRST Robotics Canadian Pacific Regional event in Victoria.

READ ALSO: Robotics competitors hit Oak Bay ahead of big Victoria competition

There are two streams. The FIRST Robotics Challenge sees teams start a small project in the fall. In January, teams get instructions for the larger FIRST Tech Challenge, and have until March to get a robot ready for competition, explained team lead Kyle Brown.

Now in his grad year, Brown started in Grade 9 and has seen the shift from one person providing the idea for the build, to the cohesive team atmosphere the team has this year.

“What we found works well is having a dedicated week where we throw ideas on the board,” he said. Everyone develops a passion and sense of ownership for the end product.

The team has also developed sub-groups to handle such elements as programming, building, design and business.

READ ALSO: Esquimalt High robotics team heads to international competition

A FIRST team requires a budget between $10,000 and $16,000 each year, making the business team critical, both in year-over-year budget and succession planning. “Of all the schools, we have the largest team with a big budget because the kids work at it,” O’Keeffe said.

Instead of one person making cold calls and meeting sponsors, there’s a business team making connections, creating fundraisers and doing outreach in the community.

They’ve even secured major sponsors in Code Name Entertainment and Seaspan Victoria Shipyards.

This ensures team members volunteer and are seen out in the community, and that the team can cover the bills and plan for the future so it exists and is funded five or six years down the road, she said.

READ ALSO: Rookie robotics team doubles in its first year at Oak Bay High

The most involved team members spend about 10 hours a week on the project.

He looks forward to the competition this weekend with a well-crafted team and credits a chunk of the program’s success to mentor O’Keeffe. “She’s been really looking out for the team and devoting a lot of time and energy.”

FIRST Robotics B.C. hosts 22 FIRST Robotics Competition robotics teams – along with their robots, built and programmed by high school students March 4 and 5 at Save on Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria.

Teams from Esquimalt, Spectrum and Reynolds compete in the Canadian Pacific Regional competition.

Spectators are not allowed this year.

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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