The 2014 CRC Robotics Competition at Vanier College in Montreal has already been underway for a day now. The competition’s 13th annual session ends tomorrow night and, as former lead organizer Peter Szilagyi told us, it’s quite a show.
CRC Robotics is a non-profit organization offering high-school and CÉGEP students in Montreal a multidisciplinary competition in an entertaining, high-intensity environment to counter school dropout rates. This year about 700 students are coming from 29 different schools (up from 17 in 2011), making up 31 different teams ranging from 10 to 60 participants.
The teams actually started the “season” in November, when they were given the rules for this year’s game (the game changes annually) and a basic set of equipment. Since then the students have between 12 to 15 weeks to design and build a robot, video, website, journal, and kiosk.
That’s one of the other more interesting parts of the CRC Robotics Competition: teams aren’t just told to build a robot. In fact, “the working robot is only one part of the challenge. In this competition as in today’s work world, it takes all kinds of talents for a project to succeed,” wrote the organizers. “It’s this range of abilities and the sense of team spirit that the CRC Robotics Competition aims to recognize with awards in Robot (Game), bilingual Video production, Kiosk, Website, and Engineering Design, and Sportsmanship.”
With all these categories there’s also junior and senior devisions, since some schools will have 12 and 13 year-olds while others may be bringing 22-year-olds.
It’s completely volunteer-run and student-oriented, and one of the main themes is keeping students in the classroom. As the West Island Gazette wrote, “it could mean the difference between dropping out of high school altogether or sticking it out until graduation. Dedicated teachers and mentors like Ted Duckworth and Al Dornan of Macdonald High School spend many after-school hours guiding their 40-plus-member team through the pitfalls of creating a website and video, building a kiosk, and designing and constructing a robot, one component at a time.”
Before this year, Szilagyi was the lead-organizer for the event, which “lived and died by the organizing team”. But over the past year he received so much outside volunteer interest that he was able to step back and focus on marketing. A new, 15-person team took over operations, all of which are former participants.
Szilagyi, CEO of a Montreal-based startup called Samply, actually spoke during TEDx Montreal about the power of “passion born from high-school robotics”.
“Every year the reason I stayed involved is because the kids are so into it,” he said. “You’ll get kids that weren’t interested in school, maybe they didn’t know what they were good at and they come and find out that they have all these skills and all of a sudden they’re really motivated.”
So what’s the coolest robot he’s ever seen in 12 years overseeing the competition? He said he doesn’t know because he’s probably seen “hundreds” of them made.
“One of the coolest things is that there’s a bunch of awards, so its not just robotics. We want to get all the kids involved so they also make websites, kiosks and all this other stuff,” said Szilagyi. “We actually get engineers to come in and judge the robots on their design and the kids are so pumped to be talking to adults who are judging their work.”
Moreover he said the engineer judges come back every year and say “I would have never thought of this”. “The kids aren’t aren’t ruled by what they ‘can’ or ‘can not’ do, it’s all trial and error, so the engineers are always amazed. You come out inspired.”
For a short preview from two days ago, you can check out this Global News report where a trio of Vanier College team members talk about the event.