Calgary robotics team to show off frisbee golf robot at national tournament

Whirring motors and clattering tools are the first sign that this isn't your average after-school program. 

'Everyone here has the potential of being that next STEM leader'

This weekend, the BMO Centre will host a competition among more than 120 middle and high school robotics teams. It's called Mecha Mayhem

2 months ago
Duration 1:30
Teams are required to build a robot capable of picking up discs, then launching them through the air and into a basket in a two-on-two match-up.

Whirring motors and clattering tools are the first sign that this isn't your average after-school program. 

In a downtown Calgary basement, several teams of middle and high school students are hard at work, building robots. 

This weekend, Western Mechatronics is hosting a tournament called Mecha Mayhem, three days of competition from Friday to Saturday at the BMO Centre. 

"The challenge is basically to build a robot to lob disks into a Frisbee golf goal," explains Justin Zhou, who co-founded the club in 2019. 

The now 23-year-old was inspired to start the club after he and his brother dove into the world of robotics during their own high school days.

two boys wearing sweaters fix up a robot. the robot has wheels and one of the boys is smiling
Kevin Zhao and Kartik Ramachandran make adjustments to their robot, 210Z Eclipse, at one of their last few practices before the big tournament. (Jo Horwood/CBC)

"The relationships that you make, the connections that you get with different competitors from all [over] the world, it's something that you just can't get with any other club from high school." 

Kartik Ramachandran, 15, a student at FFCA South high school, says it's an opportunity to build the same skills as other students with different interests. He says finding this passion has changed his future path. 

"Before this, I was looking to [join] the medical field, but after I started this, I'm enjoying what I'm doing here, so I'm gonna continue doing it," Ramachandran said. 

Ramachandran was introduced to the club by his friend, Kevin Zhau. 

five boys stand in a semi circle around a robot with wheels. they are talking
Justin Zhou (left) looks on as the 210Z Eclipse team discuss changes. Zhou says a lot of companies are looking for the kinds of skills being learned through robotics, and as Alberta looks to diversify, he hopes Western Mechatronics can help develop future leaders. (Jo Horwood/CBC)

They first met in kindergarten, and now they're both eyeing degrees at the University of Waterloo's Mechatronics Engineering program. 

"I've learned a lot of skills I've not been able to learn, like teamwork, like leadership," says Zhau, who goes to Dr. E.P. Scarlett high school. 

"During tournaments you face a lot of hardships and challenges you have to overcome, so it really helps your problem solving." 

One of WestMech's coaches, Ning Yu Huang, says there will be plenty of other teams to learn from, as well. 

They're expecting more than 120 middle and high school competitors to take part. 

"We have teams coming from U.S., B.C., Ontario, so I guess it will also open their eyes to robotics from other parts, especially some of the newer teams who just joined us this year."

two young people wearing masks crouch over a bucket of parts. one of the boys is wearing a black shirt and looks like he's explaining
Ning Yu Huang (right) helps some of the club's members find the right pieces for their robot. He says teams want their robots to be stable, so that even if it gets bumped by another mech, it still works. (Jo Horwood/CBC)

He hopes that by finding the hobby of robotics, some students could transform their passion into a career, and the engineering and communication skills being learned will help successfully transition these students into the workforce.

"A lot of the students have a lot of interest in this field, so whether it opens their eyes to different parts of it, whether it's the building or the programming, if they can make a future of that, that would be great," said the 25-year-old coach. 

"Everyone here has the potential of being that next STEM leader," he said. 

"We're providing them with the tools and everything that they need to build a tech environment here in Alberta." 

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Jo Horwood is a CBC News video journalist based in Calgary. She spent her internship at CBC News Network in Toronto and previously worked at CityNews Calgary while wrapping up her broadcast media studies degree at Mount Royal University. If you want to shine a light on a story you think is important, contact her at


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