Cup of Joe – Wired Up On Robotics


Photo -Mentors and team members gather around the evolving robot. Photo by Joe McParland – Biz X magazine

Wired Up On Robotics

In the March 2018 issue of Biz X magazine, my colleague, Dave Hall, introduced our readers to the Villanova WiredCats FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) Team 5855. They are one of many area high schools in this popular extracurricular school activity.

As Hall wrote, “Competition has spread to 250 countries and 4,000 teams involving 250,000 High School students, and tests competing teams’ abilities in so-called STEM courses — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. FIRST signifies: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.”

Biz X Publisher Deborah Jones asked me to do an update on the WiredCats, so I set out to visit them on a Saturday afternoon in February, listening on my car radio to the STYX classic, “Mr. Roboto.” The team was in their second of a six week “build” at St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic School in LaSalle.

I was met at the front entrance by fourth year Team Member and Captain, Erica Rossi. This outgoing grade 12 student escorted me around for an hour visit to observe the bee-hive of activity by about 45 of the 60 plus member team. Due to its popularity, the WiredCats has grown in numbers by about 30 percent from a year ago.

Under the direction of Teacher and Lead Mentor, Stacey Greenwood, team members are assisted by 14 mentors — parents and industry experts.

Rossi has held many positions on the team over the past four years, including Captain of the electrical group last year.

Photo: Members of the WiredCats sit on the steps of success during an early February photo shoot. (Note: team Captain Erica Rossi is seated bottom left). Photo by Joe McParland – Biz X magazine

Reflecting on her four years as a WiredCat, she says, “It’s been my favourite part of high school. I would not trade this experience for the world.”

When asked if she had to choose between the robotics team and the grade 12 prom, she replies, “robotics team.”

The team has five components: design, programming, electrical, mechanical and business. As Rossi explains, “Anyone can join the team — we’ll find a place for them.” Each group interacts with the other and no one group is more important than another.

During my visit I observed four or five students busily brainstorming ideas on a large whiteboard. They are part of the business component which oversees media outreach, communications and fundraising activities. Since the WiredCats are the school’s most costly extracurricular activity, the team relies heavily on fundraising and sponsorships.

Biz X magazine is a proud Platinum Sponsor of the team, but the school is always looking for more sponsors. To help sponsor the team as well, visit their website.

I chatted with a few of the industry expert mentors, trying to find out why they were volunteering their weekends to help the teenagers.

Eric Michaud, Mechanical Engineer Product Development Manager from CenterLine (Windsor) Limited explains, “All the things we do at CenterLine are very similar to the things we are doing here now. All aspects of what we do in industry happen here: electrical, programming, mechanical, design work — all elements. These are all our future employees.”
Gerry Kwiatkowski, Industrial Automation Professional and Professor at St. Clair College adds he’s “very excited to work with these students, especially with today’s evolving technologies.” He also recognizes that these are some of his future students at the College.

Perhaps the most engaging response I received was from Bob Hedrick, President at CAMufacturing Solutions, Inc. His company develops Computer Aided Manufacturing software for programming machine tools and robots.

Hedrick has been with the team for all four years and devotes his time because “by the end of the build season they should know how to program an FRC Robot and I get to hang out with the cool kids.”

With time quickly passing by, the team is working feverishly on their build. They’re feeling extra pressure because they lost a week of “build” because of exam week at the school.
Details of the build must be kept confidential by everyone until the competition. Since the March competition takes place when this edition of Biz X is officially released, they were able to describe their robot for me — though I had to promise not to tell anyone the details until the magazine comes out. (“Secret, secret I’ve got a secret!”)

“Our robot is designed to pick up hatch panels and deliver them to all the loading stations around the field,” Rossi describes. “Hatch panels are basically giant circular discs with a hole in the centre — like large CDs. And we’re also planning to do a level three climb at the last 30 seconds of the games; our robot will drive onto a platform and climb up and onto the highest podium to gain extra points. These are our two main objectives. Keeping the design simple in the past has worked best for us since the more complicated the build, the more danger of errors occurring. Picking up hatch panels will allow us to gain the maximum number of points with the minimal amount of mechanisms.”

The WiredCats head to Durham, Ontario from March 1 to 3, 2019 to compete against 40 other teams, many from the GTA.

Next is the “Windsor Essex Great Lakes District Event” at the University of Windsor St. Denis Centre (free admission to the public) March 28 to March 30. This is followed by the “Provincial Championship” in Mississauga April 10 to 13 at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre, and then the “FRC World Championships” at the Detroit Cobo Centre April 24 to 27. The WiredCats hope to improve upon their 2017 best year when they qualified for the “World Championships” in St. Louis, placing 10th out of a field of 60.

Windsor Essex FIRST lists the following local schools/community organizations and their team names for the 2019 FIRST Robotics Competition: Sandwich Secondary School (Sabre Bytes); Kingsville District High School (Kingsville CavalGears); Maranatha Christian Academy (Infinity); Saint Anne’s Catholic High School (Saints Bot); Vincent Massey Secondary School (Mustangs); Belle River District High School (Belle River Automatons); Cardinal Carter Catholic High School (Cougar Robotics); Tecumseh Vista Academy (Viral Vortex); Ecole Secondaire de Lamothe-Cadillac (Falcons); Holy Names Catholic High School (Knight Vision); Hon. W.C. Kennedy Collegiate Institute (KENNEDYcache); Ecole Secondaire E.J. Lajeunesse (E.J. Lajeunesse); St. Thomas of Villanova (Villanova WiredCats); Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society (The Centurions); Ecole Secondaire Catholique L’Essor (Sabotage); Catholic Central High School (Electric Comets) and Windsor Islamic High School (WIHS Robotics), in addition to three community teams (CK Cyber Pack, A-Team Robotics and Build-A-Dream Robotics).

I wished the team much success in their competitions and reminded the students they will always be known as the WiredCats and not the “WeirdCats.” LOL!

And, in the famous words of Dennis DeYoung from 1983, “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto.”

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Joe retired January 2015 as a Superintendent from a 26 year career with the Canada Border Services Agency in Windsor. Since then he has jettisoned into a number of exciting new opportunities. As a volunteer with YourTV since 2003 Joe is an on air personality for the City of Windsor and Essex County Council meetings. He is also a registered Ontario Marriage Officiant since 2006 and is co-owner of Creative Marriage Celebrations. Joe now shares his talents and numerous life experiences with Biz X as a regular blogger, columnist and any other “Joe – Jobs” we can find for him.