I recently learned that I want to go back to high school, be fourteen-years-old, and sign up for a team of robot builders - instead of that ill-fated karate class.
This past Friday, I was graciously invited by a local retired teacher to meet with the FIRST Robotics club of Port Perry High School. For those who don’t know, FIRST Robotics is a north-America-wide competition that pits teams of young students and their adult mentors in the construction of, you guessed it, robots.
Far from the metal carnage of Battle Bots, a favourite show from my Saturday mornings as a kid, these machines must be expertly programmed, built, and piloted to carry out tasks which us humans consider easy - with only six weeks from start to finish.
The 5051 team is local, but due to a lack of a workshop space, has taken over one of the mentor’s garages in north Oshawa for the time being.
After chatting on the phone and via e-mail with the local organizer, a gentleman who wished for some media coverage of the venture to see the group flourish in Port Perry - I happily agreed to take on the project. With any luck, you’ll see a story detailing the build in one of the next issues of The Standard. Here’s a preview and some personal ramblings.
After a long day of budget meetings and photographs, the sun had already dropped as I plopped into the driver’s seat of my car. I rubbed my eyes, sent a text to my my girlfriend Jordie letting her know I’d be missing dinner, and pulled onto Simcoe St. southbound to head home.
It took a lot of strength to turn right instead of left at Conlin Rd., but I’m quite glad I decided to make the appointment that we had discussed early last week.
After pulling up to the home and being greeted by an extremely friendly chihuahua (which I didn’t think existed) I was shown into the garage-come-workshop and introduced to the team.
Even in my tired state, my eyes opened wide. I was in a world of servos, pneumatics, machined aluminum and 3D printers - many of the tools I’ve only seen in my dreams. I resisted the urge to fiddle and play with everything while jumping up and down, and got to know the team.
Team 5051 is group of high-school and university students who formed the reincarnation of the former team 1006 Port Perry ‘Fast Eddie’ which disbanded a few years ago.
These young-adults were pooling their collective resources to build a seven-foot-tall robot named Chappy, and laughing while doing it. It was amazing to see how much talent they possessed, and I commend the team for how hard they worked to overcome the talents that they didn’t have quite perfected.
Looking around the shop filled me with nostalgia - zapping me back to my younger days when I would, in retrospect, do some awesome, but stupid, experiments.
To this day, I blame Bill Nye for the shorted-out power socket in my mother’s front hall.
In those days, weekends meant time to work on projects, such as; cutting open batteries to see what was inside them, taping bits of wire together to build a computer chip, and dismantling the TV remote to see if I could put it back together. Keep in mind, a six-year-olds definition of ‘dismantle’ is very different from my adult one, and involves a lot of smashing.
Still, my parents let me continue the projects (or they just didn’t catch me, I’m not sure) because I clearly had a passion to build. As I write there are four ‘Frankensteined’ laptops on my desk at home - someday I’ll build that supercomputer I’ve always wanted.
The moral of the story is that it doesn’t matter if you can build a project with expert precision, sometimes the most fun is had during the trial-error-stage. I think there’s a Confucius-style life lesson somewhere in there, but I’ll leave that up to you to ponder.
Spending just a few short hours with the 5051 PPHS builders has convinced me that FIRST Robotics is an extremely valuable resource for youth in the North Durham community. Skills aren’t necessary, because mentors will step-up to teach their team how the tools and parts work together - from preliminary designs right through to completion, and friendships are forged along the way.
If any of my faithful readers are interested in following the team, or attending their competition, which runs from March 11 to 14 at UOIT in Oshawa, please contact Bryan Coughlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or e-mail me via Ben@TheStandardNewspaper.ca for more information.