Alberta teens put robotics skills on display

Teams from all over Alberta took part in a competition to test their programming skills - all while working on robotics projects to help senior citizens.
Teams from all over Alberta gathered at NAIT Saturday to show off their robot-programming skills. 2:01

Steven Schultz and his teammates' cheers grow loud as they watch their creation - a small, four-wheeled robot - struggle up an incline and across a narrow plastic bridge.

It’s one of the many tasks that the robot, built out of Lego and programmed by the St. Augustine team, had to perform at the First Lego League championship at NAIT Saturday.

"It's awesome actually," Schultz said. "I love programming the robots and seeing how they do."

Robots built by teams from Edmonton and Calgary ran through missions that tested their ability to run through obstacle courses, pick up small items and perform other tasks.

But the real work took place away from the pounding music and flashing lights of the competition floor -- it happened in the workshop, where teams worked to tweak their robots programming before challenges.

Nathan Ciezki’s team is developing a device to help seniors organize pills and remind them when it was time to take their medication. (CBC News)

Nathan Ciezki’s team was furiously trying to make fixes to their team’s design after it failed its first try at picking up Lego blocks and moving them across the table.

"I'm thinking pull it back to three rotations, so it just clips it and drags it back, instead of totally destroying everything in it's path," said Ciezki.

While Saturday’s contest was just about friendly competition, the teams are also applying their robotics knowledge to the real world.

During the competition, teams are also given points on projects of their own design that are meant to help seniors.

Ciezki’s team is building the Pill Popper 1.0 - a device that helps the elderly organize the medication that they take.

"It dispenses your pills. It organizes your pills, and it tells you when to take your pills," he says.

"Every senior has maybe one or multiple types of medication and it can get confusing."

Other projects include a watch with a timer and storage compartment for pills and a device to help seniors who have problems getting out of bed.

Ciezki says the competition is teaching the teams important lessons, even for those who don’t plan to continue in robotics.

"We’re learning communication, we’re learning cooperation … we’re learning how to handle stress, as you saw, we were running around frantically, trying to get our robot done."

Teams from Fort McMurray were also set to take part, but were unable to attended because of the highway closures Friday. Organizers say they are considering another competition that would allow them to attend.