geekStarter Robotics Workshop Inspires Students

If you program a robot to be creative, who is more innovative – the human that built that robot, or the artificial intelligence (AI) itself? It’s these types of questions that are pushing boundaries in the world of robotics, and students with MindFuel’s geekStarter program showed this past weekend how excited they are to tackle the challenge of robots for the future.

Robotics teams along guest speakers and panelists at geekStarter's robotics workshop - Calgary, 9 April 2017

Robotics teams along guest speakers and panelists at geekStarter’s robotics workshop – Calgary, 9 April 2017

On April 9, geekStarter hosted a robotics workshop for two high school teams: Father Mercredi Community High-School, from Fort McMurray, AB and APEX Robotics, based in Calgary, AB. These robotics teams shared their projects, and heard from researchers and professionals pursuing engineering and robotics applications in their work. The event, which created a space for collaborative idea sharing, showcasing student work, and highlighting successes of the teams, inspired Albertan students to apply their skills and knowledge of robotics to a multitude of disciplines.

FMCHS team member talking about team's projects

FMCHS team member talking about her team’s projects

Father Mercredi Community High-School has in fact four teams that compete in 4-5 regional competitions per season. Making its own contribution to the big robotics family at the school, each team collaborates with the others while building their own specific application at the same time. Their presentation highlighted key projects such as the Pegasus Robotic Arm, involving student programming and automation; a robot to collect and assess invasive aquatic species in the local community; and a dog-training bear robot to teach dogs safe responses in bear territory. The students had just competed in the West Canada – FIRST Robotics Competition in the previous couple of days.

 

APEX Robotics team presents at the workshop

APEX Robotics team presents at the workshop

The APEX Robotics team comprises students from multiple high schools in the Calgary area. They too brought their robot to FIRST Robotics regional competitions during this season. In March they competed in Flagstaff, Arizona and more recently (April 8) they were semi-finalists at the West Canada FR Regionals in Calgary where they placed sixth of 50 teams. The team is supported by Calgary-based Protospace, a makerspace where they build their robots and connect with other designers and innovators in the community.

The teams’ presentations were followed by two eye-opening sessions given by two guest speakers: Emily Marasco (PhD Candidate, E.I.T.) invited students to make “creative connections for inspired innovation” and stirred their imagination with striking applications from the arts. Dr. Mohammad Moshirpour (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Calgary) engaged the students in a dialogue about the meaning of automation, its origin and future directions. The workshop ended with a panel discussion where guest Doug Rosvick (P.Eng., B.Sc., Software Engineering Senior, Lockheed Martin CDL Systems) and the two speakers each shared their perspectives and insights on robotics and engineering both in today’s world and in the future. The group panel engaged the audience in discussing critical issues such as ethical and legal implications, and mitigating risks associated with robotics and Artificial Intelligence. One of the team advisors commented: “It was very important and inspirational for the students to be able to talk to the industry representatives and have their perspective.”

Panelists Doug Rosvick, Mohammad Moshirpour, and Emily Marasco

Panelists Doug Rosvick, Mohammad Moshirpour, and Emily Marasco

One key learning from the workshop was that to excel in robotics, teams need to have cognitive diversity – that is, a successful robotics team requires that its members be engaged in more than just the engineering content behind the robots. Marketing, communication, and financial knowledge are just a few of the many skill sets needed to get a robotics application off the ground, and in many ways these robotics teams are acting like start-up entrepreneurial ventures. Beyond that, the inherent creativity and artistic skills in robotics mean that the field is fundamentally cross-disciplinary. Robotics is more than just science and math; there’s something for everyone when it comes to designing a robot. “I enjoyed the panel discussion, as it provided an open forum for everyone to speak their mind. The speakers were also informative and I enjoyed linking creativity with robotics”, said one student.

The next opportunity for teams to meet and present will be the geekStarter high-school Jamboree, hosted in High River, AB on June 10, 2017. Given that these teams’ enthusiasm and knowledge of robotics is growing fast, it will be exciting to see their progress over the next two months. More details about the jamboree will become available soon. Stay tuned!