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November 27, 2012 8:18 AM

Conestoga hosts robot race

Conestoga's Engineering & Information Technology campus was crawling with robots on November 5, when the college hosted its second annual Cyber Olympiad.

The robotics competition, which was open to high school students across southwestern Ontario, was organized by the School of Engineering and Information Technology in an effort to promote its degree programs.

“What we're trying to do is increase our visibility at the high school level, particularly as a degree program,” said Peter Roeser, a professor in the college's Integrated Telecommunication and Computer Technologies (Bachelor of Applied Technology) program. “There's a lot of assumption that there are only diploma programs at the college level and students generally don't know this option is available to them.”

A total of 12 teams and 48 students competed in the event, some from as far away as Woodstock and Brantford.

While the students knew the challenge would consist of designing and building a robot, they were not given the details until they arrived at the college the morning of the competition. When they discovered they had to create a robot out of Lego that could cycle, run and swim, they had mixed reactions.

“We knew we had to do something with robotics, but not all the details,” said Andrew Visser, a student from Waterloo Collegiate Institute. “When we found out the challenge was to build a robot to run a triathlon, we were both excited and nervous.”

Following a brief tutorial on the kits they would use to program their robots, the students were given about five hours to design, build, test and tinker with their creations.

Roeser said the tight deadline forced students to utilize a multitude of problem-solving skills.

“It's a team project so there was a lot of brainstorming,” he said. “There were also a lot of mechanical skills and a certain amount of programming skills involved.”

When the time came for the big race, the 12 teams gathered in the Atrium and placed their robots behind the start line, some of them scrambling to make last-second adjustments to their robotic Olympians.

Three minutes and 43 seconds later, Zoltar the robot crawled across the finish line to win the second annual Cyber Olympiad.

Designed by a team from Waterloo Collegiate Institute, Zoltar struggled during the cycling component of the competition but was able to hang on for the victory.

Visser, a member of the winning team, said the event was a great experience and winning was just a bonus.

“We weren't sure about our chances going in, but once we fine-tuned the design we felt pretty good about it,” he said. “Other than a slight panic attack when our cycle didn't work right, it was a really fun day.”

Ig Kolenko, Chair of the School of Engineering and Information Technology, said the event was a huge success.

“It went really well,” he said. “This is definitely a great way to get high school students interested in the program and we hope it pays off.”

Story by Ryan Bowman, second-year student in Conestoga's Print-Journalism program.

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