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Calgary robotics team striving for a world championship

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More than 20 high school students make up 4421 Forge Robotics through the Alberta Tech Alliance Association. They're heading to Houston to compete against 20 countries represented by 450 teams at this year's  four day long First Robotics Competition beginning on April 20th.

The event is back after a two year hiatus caused by the pandemic. Every year teams are faced with different challenges their robots have to achieve. This year the 55 kilogram machines have to pick up and shoot balls into a basket and climb four bars positioned at different heights suspending their weight the entire time.

"Once they get on the climbing devices, it can get to be quite scary," said Louis Batonyi, 4421 lead mentor. "Because of course, people are doing their best, it's a two and a half minute game and you try to cram in as much as you can, we've seen robots upside down, smashed to bits."

Luke Kornak is a 15-year-old grade 10 student who does pretty much anything and everything for the team but his favourite task is in the project's early stages by working on the computer to design a virtual robot.

"Putting together the robot before we actually built it on digital software," said Kornak. "So we've basically built the whole thing on software to make a plan that we can actually build it and that's the best part in my opinion."

IDAHO REGIONAL

The team is just back from a weekend regional competition in Idaho with 27 US teams and one Canadian.

"We placed third," said Batonyi. "Unfortunately we lost out in the semifinals but it was a great learning experience for us because we were able to compete against a couple of the elite teams so that we could see where we actually really rank before we head off to Houston."

Sanjay Jayaram is in grade 11 and has the job of packing all the spare parts needed for the world championships in Houston. He says the team learned from their Idaho experience, because they didn't pack some essential replacement parts.

"Some of the most critical pieces we need to have spares of is stuff like our drive train so that we can actually still drive around the field," said Jayaram. "Our (ball) shooters so that we can actually score the points or intakes we can actually pick up the balls so that we can then give it to the shooter to score the points then also a climber so we can actually climb at the end of the match so we can score points that also get the ranking points from that."

The robot has an autonomous feature that it's judged on but also a remote driver for competitions. That responsibility falls on 15-year-old Nik Artsimenia and has been practicing quite a bit on the course they've made in their Calgary build space.

"It is quite a bit of pressure but me and (co-driver) Robert figure out a way to communicate with each other," said Artsimenia. "To make sure that we're ready with each match to make sure that we're nice and calm and in a good state to drive."

Grade 12 student Shannon Labbe is in charge of safety for the team and also works on public relations and sponsorship. She says memberships account for about $2,000 of the annual budget of $70,000. The rest comes from sponsorship and Labbe says it's been a challenge to fundraise during the pandemic.

"Every competition you enter in First (FRC) is about $5,000 it also goes to paying our rent for this wonderful built space, it goes to building our replicas of the (competition) field every year as well as funding our robot."

The team is proud of what they've been able to build and how their robot functions. They're hopeful the trip to Houston will bring them a championship banner for their club house.

"At this point there's only two robots going from Canada," said Batonyi. "There will be more announced shortly once the Ontario and Quebec divisions are completed."

Learn more about the Alberta Tech Alliance Association and team 4421 Forge Robotics here: www.ataarobotics.ca

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