Six weeks ago, teams of high school students from all around the world were given the mission to design and build a robot to perform a number of different tasks and now they are coming head-to-head in Calgary.

On Friday and Saturday, over 450 students have gotten together for FIRST POWER UP’s Canadian Rockies Regional robotics competition. They’re all competing for the top spots and the chance to showcase their designs at the World Championships in the United States.

“The first and second alliances have an opportunity to possibly go to Houston. The second alliance captains actually get a wild card to go. The first place alliance teams also get a chance to go to Houston as well,” says Phoebe Arcilla, chairperson of the competition.

Arcilla says that the competition has drawn a number of different teams from all over the world.

“There are different teams here. Hawaii actually is already going because they won in their own regional but they’re here to participate and experience Calgary,” she says. “[There’s a] team from Turkey, a team from Germany, a U.S. military team; we’re really excited to have them here.”

In addition to the chance to move up the ladder, there are also a number of other awards to win but it isn’t the only benefit.

“One of the key things is building kids’ confidence levels. These kids do an amazing thing; they basically run a business. So they are not only promoting themselves on websites, designing their shirts and balancing books, they are actually solving complex problems and applying them to what they’ve learned.”

The Intimitrons, a community-based team in Calgary, says they have a good understanding of the principles of the competition.

“We each try out a different couple skills and then as the season progresses, everyone kind of finds their niche and goes where they’re most needed and all hands on deck,” says Elizabeth Drew, the 17-year-old drive coach.

Drew says that her robotics club provides her with an opportunity to experience things that are beyond the classroom that she’s used to.

“When you’re in school, you’re just learning bare naked science. When you come to a place like this, you get to apply everything you’ve learned, all the electronics. You come here and you get to play with circuits and stuff which isn’t actually part of the curriculum.”

Sarah Buchwitz, the team leader and most senior member of the Intimitrons, says learning skills to talk to people confidently have helped almost as much as the techniques of building a robot from the ground up.

“You learn all kinds of things. Not only skills about designing and building robots, you also learn skills on how to talk to people, how to ask for things like sponsorships, you get to be professional and make professional relationships with people. You also get to learn marketing, business and all those other sides of the team as well.”

The Intimitrons is also a unique team in the competition, being the only all-female squad. Buchwitz says it was a purposeful choice because they wanted to address the gender gap in the engineering field.

She says that many of the other teams have been very accepting of their idea.

“A lot of the teams are really supportive. It’s definitely unique but it’s not unappreciated. People have a lot of respect for what we are trying to do.”

Arcilla says she is very proud of everything the students in the competition are doing.

“I’m very proud of them because they are really into what they are doing. For most of them there is a 180 degree change from when they first start to afterwards. They are so confident that they don’t even worry who they are taking to whether it’s little children to adults. They know what they are doing and they explain it so thoroughly.”

More information on this weekend’s competition, as well as a way to watch live matches from the Genesis Centre, is available on FIRST POWER UP’s website.

(With files from Bill Macfarlane)