Robotics competition inspires Canadian students

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VietnamNet English - 30 month(s) ago 3 readings

2012 will be a strong year for the robotic sector, the Robotic Industries Association says.

The RIA said in a report that that's because of sharp demand from automotive and aircraft manufacturers, and food, beverage and pharmaceutical companies.

The report supports a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast that demand for mechanical engineers, including robotic engineers, will increase 6 percent annually through 2018. That's as more professionals are needed to install, maintain and repair the new equipment.

"There's tremendous demand for these kinds of skills," Lance Balcom, president of the Vancouver-based Pacific Youth Robotic Society, told Xinhua on Saturday.

"As more and more things become automated, it's less and less about being an assembly line worker and more and more about building the assembly line itself, making it automated, making it happen effectively and efficiently," he said.

Robotics are in everyday life whether people realize it or not, Balcom said.

Balcom spoke as he presided over a day of intense robotics competition at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

About 500 students representing more than 80 teams participated in the VEX robotics regional competition. The students demonstrated the abilities of their robotic creations in hopes of earning a trip to next month's VEX Robotics championships in California.

The top eight teams from the division, which includes British Columbia, and the U.S. states of Washington and Oregon, will advance to the finals.

The championship, sponsored by NASA and a number of technology companies, brings together more than 400 teams of amateur robotic enthusiasts from around the world to display their programming, design and robotic skills.

The championship in Anaheim, California, on April 19-21, will be the culmination of a year of qualifying events that included more than 3,500 teams from around the world.

All competitors were required to build their creations from a robotic kit sold by the Texas-based VEX and then modify them accordingly.

In the championships, students will create mobile, box-like robots equipped with an arm that can compete in a basketball-like competition. Players maneuver their robots to pick up or scoop up balls and discs and then deposit them in cylindrical stacks to earn points.

"Part of it (the competition) is about technology, but mainly it is about a group of kids with technical capabilities coming together and learning how to exchange ideas and work together as a team to produce an integrated and better solution," Balcom said.

"That's really the skill the technical world needs to develop, what allows them to develop innovation, to work together, and to develop the skills that allows them to become good engineers and scientists."

Chase Finnegan, a 17-year-old from Vancouver Island, is participating in the competition for the fourth time. With his graduation coming up, he's now looking at robotics as a potential career as demand for skilled professionals in the field is growing.

Robotic technicians need to study a variety of disciplines that are related to building a robot.

They need to learn mathematics and physics so they can understand torque and leveraging motors. Also important is the understanding of electronics to know how batteries draw current and how a robot is wired. The fledgling technicians must also think in an abstract way to program a machine.

"Physics is the big one because we have these big moving parts hanging up in the air, you've got to know how much weight is going to pull it down and such," Finnegan said. "Mathematics is also vital and just being good with your hands."

University students seeking a career in the field will also learn about hydraulics and pneumatics, CADD/CAM systems, microprocessors, numerically controlled systems, integrated systems, and logic.

Teacher Stu Savard is among those exposing young children to the potentials of robotics. Starting at his Comox Valley elementary school on Vancouver Island four years ago with only a handful of Lego robotics kits, he now teaches students as young as 10 and 11 about simple machines and robotics with the help of more than 100 kits.

"For me, robotics is really green because what you learn with robotics is how to take things apart," he said. "So when something doesn't work we have a whole bunch of kids who'd rather throw it in the garbage, we'll just challenge them to take it apart and fix it."

Savard said he plans to add electricity and more advanced robotics to his curriculum next year to better equip his students headed to universities or technical colleges.

"Knowing these skills will help them get pre-selected for the school they apply to," he said. "It's a huge step if you're first in queue. They still have to have the grades to get admitted, but having this robotics background gives them a (career) pathway."

VietNamNet/Xinhuanet

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