South Surrey students testing laws of robotics

Teamwork key as Semi teens learn no matter the outcome, ‘no one’s to blame’

A basement isn’t often the first location that comes to mind when considering places that could be hotbeds of potential.

But that’s exactly the case for a basement classroom of Semiahmoo Secondary.

Located a relatively short walk – down more than a couple of hallways and staircases – from the school’s bustling lobby, the space is where members of the school’s robotics club meet to connect with like minds, brainstorm ideas and turn those ideas into robot reality.

The students involved span a range of grades, and each has a slew of unrelated interests ranging from dance and cooking to football and more.

But in that basement classroom, as they test designs, tweak electrical components and more – much, much more – it’s clear the potential is unlimited.

Last month, after spending six straight weeks designing, building and programming their own robot, 13 of the club’s 22 members took their skills to Victoria, representing Semiahmoo in the First Robotics Canadian Pacific Regional competition.

One of four Surrey teams competing – L.A. Matheson, North Surrey and Clayton Heights also entered – and among 30 from across B.C., Alberta and California, they had to put their robot to the test in a video-game-style competition in which it had to, ultimately, take ownership of a scale or switch by delivering cubes to tip the balance.

After a day of practice, two days of competition ensued, comprised of two-minute matches in which competing robots had to operate autonomously for the first 15 seconds, then under the control of a driver.

All four Surrey teams made it to the playoffs, an achievement NSS teacher Scott Smith praised in a Twitter post from the event.

Only North Surrey qualified for the international challenge, taking place later this month in Houston, Texas. Up to 271 teams will be vying for the win April 18-21.

Agam Aneja was at the helm of Semi’s robot, dubbed Apollo, and said Wednesday that he blames himself for his team’s ultimate defeat.

“We missed semifinals by one point,” Aneja told Peace Arch News.

“It’s my fault. I forgot to place one box so that cost us 10 points.”

But he and his clubmates know that ultimately, success or failure is never carried by just one.

It’s a mantra Tony Chio – teacher sponsor of the club with Jeff Box – drills into them at every opportunity.

“We win as a team, we lose as a team and no one’s to blame,” said Chio, who teaches science and math and also coaches Semi’s ultimate and volleyball teams.

“You put anyone else in that situation, it would’ve been the same outcome.”

The teammates agreed the experience was one they gained from immensely – learning the value of teamwork not just amongst themselves but also with their competitors, and building connections with those other teams.

“How to work as a team, how to work in a team,” said Nav Sodhi, part of Semi’s build squad. “I’m usually a solo player.”

They pointed to the L.A. Matheson squad as an example of the teamwork around them. Their members didn’t hesitate to hand Semi their spare intake motor when the South Surrey team’s stopped working during competition and they had just an hour to fix the problem.

“You’ll never find that in a sports competition,” Sodhi said.

Sodhi also lauded the attention the club’s involvement in the Victoria competition brings to STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It’s an area he described as “one of the biggest-rising fields.”

Aneja said Semi’s club is also quickly gaining interest within the school. After an inaugural year with around 10 members, the lineup to get involved this year was out the door, he said.

The learnings from being involved, he noted, go far beyond programming, coding, designing and building.

“In life, sometimes you do get rejected,” Aneja said. “That’s pretty much what this club is about. It shows you the hard realities.”

It’s also about discovering what’s possible.

“This stuff isn’t something an average human being will do,” he said. “It’s so cool to be, ‘Hey, I built a robot.’ It’s so cool to be able to say that.“

 

Tracy Holmes photo From left: Natasha Stojanovic, Agam Aneja, Valentino Jaber, Ethan Kim, Piyush Awasthi and Nav Sodhi.

Andrew Chen and Teresa Liao work on the Apollo. (Tony Chio photo)

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