Cassandra Breckenridge is a robot engineer, and she's only in Grade 4 at Ecole Notre-Dame du Sault.
While she isn't yet developing complicated, state-of-the-art robots that can tend to man's every whim, she is learning how to program small, Lego-built robots as part of her school's First Lego League team.
Breckenridge and her fellow team members brought their robot to Sudbury Feb. 28 to pit it against other robots built by students her own age as part of the Great Robotics Challenge.
Last year was the first time she got a taste for building and programming the robots, and she has no plans to let it go anytime soon.
“I loved it, and I wanted to do it again this year,” she said. “It's just so fun. It's hard, but at the end, you're just so happy with what you accomplished.”
The team from Sault Ste. Marie was one of 21 teams — representing 12 different schools — to compete in the challenge. Schools from Greater Sudbury, Sudbury East, Chapleau, Dubreuilville and the Soo accepted an invitation from Conseil scolaire catholique du Nouvel-Ontario.
The challenge required each team to build a robot made from LEGO NXT blocks. Each robot and its team of programmers was tested through two different contests measuring the robot’s strength and precision, as well as the success of its programming and level of control by its student masters.
Robots were required to accomplish different tasks. If successful, the team was awarded points.
Teams could spend months in advance preparing for the challenge, but it was a level playing field come game day, because no one knew what tasks the robots would have to accomplish until they actually showed up.
Prizes were also awarded for efficiency, quality of school banners each team had to design, as well as their team cheer.
This marked the 10th edition of the challenge, designed as a friendly competition that encourages teamwork and ingenuity while introducing students to the world of engineering and technology.
JoAnne Gagnon-Beauchamp, a teacher with École Ste. Marie, said her students are very committed to the program.
At first, students were meeting one a week, but as the competition drew closer, students started meeting twice a week. They also gave up their lunch breaks and recesses to develop their robot.
“There are so many things to do with building and programming these robots,” she said. “They also had to design their banner and a team cheer. It's time consuming, and they've been practising since November.”
While her team of young robot engineers is very enthusiastic about the program, she readily admits that it's not for everyone.
“It takes a lot of patience, and you have to be able to communicate well with the other students and listen,” she said.
École Ste. Marie has participated for the past seven years, she said. The teams, made up of the school's grade 4, 5 and 6 students, have won for the past two years and moved on to the next level of competition in Waterloo.
Students can face a lot of challenges when competing, she said. It's technology, and “sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.”
“You might have programmed the robot right, and then when it comes time to test it, it might not work the way it's supposed to,” she said. “There are a lot of little things that can go wrong.”
Winners in the competition:
Junior Division (grades 4-6):
first place: École Notre-Dame-du-Sault — LEGO légende fière et verte (Sault Ste. Marie)
second place: École Notre-Dame-du-Sault — Funky Loups (Sault Ste. Marie)
third place : École St-Pierre — Robo-Locos (Sudbury)
Intermediate Division (grades 7-8):
first place: École Alliance St-Joseph —Robolynx (Chelmsford)
second place: École Alliance St-Joseph — Robo-Nautes (Chelmsford)
third place: École Ste-Marie — Ordilions (Azilda)
Junior Division: École St-Pierre — Automates Acrobates (Sudbury)
Intermediate Division: École Ste-Marie — Ordilions (Azilda)
Best Team Cheer
Junior Division: École Notre-Dame de la Merci — Robot Logique (Coniston)
Intermediate Division: École Félix-Ricard — Super-Cyber-Ingénieurs (Sudbury)