Sault Ste. Marie kids heading to World Robotics Championship

Team iSMAK from F.H. Clergue School in Sault Ste. Marie recently beat out dozens of other teams at VEX, a provincial championship.

The best of the best in student robotics are headed to Kentucky soon for the VEX World Robotics Championship

Students in the Algoma District School Board have been active in joining VEX robotics competitions across the province. (Algoma District School Board)

If robots are the future, then a team of kids from Sault Ste. Marie is already meeting the future head-on.

Team iSMAK from F.H. Clergue School in Sault Ste. Marie recently beat out dozens of other teams at the VEX provincial championship.

The team now moves on to represent Ontario at the VEX robotics world championships in Louisville, Kentucky next month.

Sara Giroux, one of the team's coaches, told CBC's Morning North the VEX competitions feature kits called VEX kits, supplied by Innovation First, a technology company based out of Pickering, Ont.

"With their kits, they can build a robot to perform certain tasks," Giroux said. "Each year it's different at the competition. This year it's called ringmaster. The [robots] take 60 rings and score them on posts on a 4x8 game field."

"Each ring they score garners them points. It's all done in a minute," she said.

Students at the competition are building their own robots, similar to this one pictured here. (Supplied/ Grace Hyslop)

Kids showing strengths in certain areas

Team iSMAK has been building robots for 3 years, she said, and has shown improvement in every competition. They've also been able to attract a wide range of ages to the team. It makes for a non-traditional school group setting.

"We have four children, ranging in age from 8 to 13," she said. " We've got two ten year olds, and our thirteen year old."

"Over the years each has fallen into their role and that is their strength. This year [our] 8-year-old has done most of our programming. Our ten year olds are our outstanding drivers."

"And we're lucky our 13-year-old is taking on the role of mentor with great pride," Giroux said. "He's taught the younger ones quite a bit. They're really bright, and they all excel at mathematics and engineering."

And now that the team has qualified for the VEX finals in Kentucky, which attracts over 400 international teams, Giroux said she's hoping the success can convince others to join the field — especially young women who may not always receive the encouragement to explore robotics.

"Only ten per cent of engineers are women," Giroux said. "Robotics is a great gateway for STEM professions for girls."

"Without being gender specific, it's trying to be more inclusive of boys and girls."

The team from Sault Ste. Marie will compete in the VEX finals in Kentucky. (Supplied/Grace Hyslop)


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