Bellerose bot shows beanbag ability
Robotics team makes strong showing at first competition
By: Kevin Ma
| Posted: Saturday, Feb 23, 2013 06:00 am
A Bellerose robot grasped for victory last week as some local students put on a strong performance at St. Albert’s first performance in a provincial robotics tournament.
The Bellerose Bulldogs robotics team made it to the semi-finals last Feb. 16 at the second annual Alberta Regional VEX Robotics Competition. Held at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, it was the first time that the event featured teams from St. Albert.
The contest challenges students to build a programmable robot that can complete a certain task, grabbing beanbags, in this case, said organizer Neil Wenger. About 40 teams from across Alberta and Saskatchewan competed for prizes and a shot at the global VEX contest.
There were no chainsaws or flamethrowers, Wenger said, as only parts from the $1,300 VEX kits were allowed to ensure a level playing field.
“It’s not about resources or whose dad has a machine shop. It’s about ingenuity,” he said.
Participants get hands-on exposure to engineering technology and demonstrate programming, mechanical and teamwork skills.
“This is an opportunity for the academics or the nerds to put on their school colours, go on a field trip and represent their school,” Wenger said.
The team from Bellerose Composite High School had just a few months to assemble its “bot”, said coach Bill Turnham, yet still managed to make the semi-finals.
“For our first time out of the gate, it was fabulous,” he said.
St. Albert Catholic High also fielded a robot, Turnham said, which made it to the quarterfinals.
Bellerose team members Luffy Dhaliwal, Devin Headrick and Tyler Codner hauled out the “Bulldog” for a spin this week. Using a pair of game controllers, they deftly spun the claw-equipped robot about a table and had it pick up a roll of masking tape.
Headrick says he grew up watching cool robots on the Discovery Channel, but likely would never have had the chance to build one were it not for this contest.
“This opened up all of our doors to this sort of technology,” he said.
This year’s VEX challenge was called Sack Attack. Teams had to build robots that could grab yellow or green beanbags and stack them in one of three locations – a coloured square, an elevated trough or a high platform.
Each round lasted two minutes, with each bag and location worth a different amount of points. The robots had to be fully autonomous for the first 15 seconds, after which they were remote-controlled. The team with the most points at the end of the round won.
Each team took a different approach, Dhaliwal said, with some fielding robots with giant scoops, long arms or tank-treads. One of the Fort McMurray teams dominated the competition with its long-armed scoop, which could reach the high-value top shelf goal, grab five bags at a time and swipe bags from opponents.
One even had a snake-like head tethered to its main body that zipped out to steal bags from the opposing team, he noted.
“It was a brilliant design,” he said.
Bellerose went with a simple five-wheeled claw-bot, which really paid off, Turnham said.
“A lot of those bigger ones, they were efficient in picking things up, but they were clumsy.”
The Bellerose bot was quick and agile, and could easily recover from mistakes. It also had fewer moving parts, making it less likely to break down.
The team didn’t have time to code any complex moves, Dhaliwal said, so they had the bot simply drive up to the nearest beanbag and stop. This also helped, as their program was too simple to go wrong.
The Bulldog’s claw jammed in the final round, Dhaliwal said, so the team switched to sabotage by dragging sacks out of their opponent’s goal. They lost by about two sacks.
Dhaliwal said the contest showed him that you could get into robotics without needing a science degree.
“They’re actually quite simple, and they’re only as complex as you want them to be,” he said.
The team plans to keep tweaking its robot, Dhaliwal said, but might need to redesign it completely next year if the contest switches from beanbags to balls.
“Personally, I think it’d be more fun if we started from scratch,” he said.
Contest results are available at http://www.robotevents.com/robot-competitions/vex-robotics-competition/alberta-regional-vex-competition-2.html.