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Comox Valley sending two teams to world robotics championship

Left to right: Comox Valley students August McLellan, Samuel Crouch, Alex Bowman and Kate Waddell are all heading to the Vex Robotics World Championship in Louisville, Ken. next month. Bowman is pictured holding his and Waddell’s robot, Geoff. - Spencer Anderson / Echo Staff
Left to right: Comox Valley students August McLellan, Samuel Crouch, Alex Bowman and Kate Waddell are all heading to the Vex Robotics World Championship in Louisville, Ken. next month. Bowman is pictured holding his and Waddell’s robot, Geoff.
— image credit: Spencer Anderson / Echo Staff

By Spencer Anderson

Echo Staff

Two teams of local students are heading to Louisville, Ken. next month to compete for a world championship in robotics.

Team Navigate, made up of Navigate North Island Distance Education students August McClellan, Samuel Crouch and Maggie Johnson, will head to the Vex Robotics Competition, which is taking place from April 19-25.

They will be joined by Byte Me Robotics, formed by Cumberland Robotics Club founder Alex Bowman, formerly of NIDES, and Kate Waddell, also a Navigate NIDES student.

The teams were two of eight robotics clubs or programs that secured a spot in international competition during the provincial championships earlier this month.

Navigate robotics coach Stewart Savard said competing requires a huge amount of time and research for their teams, who must design, program and refine a robot for months in the lead-up to a major competition.

"These are kids who will spend 300 to 400 hours on Vex robotics this year. They make a tremendous commitment," he said.

The Comox Valley has been able to send teams to the international competition for the last four years running, Savard said. A team from Mark R. Isfeld finished 23rd overall at last year's championship, he said.

"The Valley is really quite good at this," said Savard.

Bowman is attending the competition for the first and last time – he is set to graduate this spring – but is excited to take part.

Bowman takes his classes from home so that he can spend more time honing his robot, which he has named 'Geoff.' He usually takes two to three hours a day to tweak the machine.

Each team can come up with their own design, but robots have to be capped at a certain size and use the same base components.

Bowman has streamed the competition live for the last two years and said he's eager to check out the competition.

"It's always fascinating to see what other people come up with," he said.

This year's competition will be based on the game 'Starstruck,' which features two teams of two robots on opposite sides of a wall in an arena setting. Each team must use their bots to lift, launch or push cubes or star-shaped objects across the other side to score points.

Although hundreds of teams of high school students from across the world are taking part, the annual competition frequently features B.C. teams.

"We punch above our weight," said Lance Balcom, executive director of the Pacific Youth Robotics Society, which organizes provincial robotics competitions.

Balcom said the Navigate NIDES robotics program is among "the most technologically literate" schools outside the Lower Mainland.

Because Bowman and Waddell's team is independent, they are fundraising to help pay for the trip. Anyone interested in supporting the team can visit their page at www.gofundme.com/bytemerobotics.

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