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Competitors learn life lessons at annual Manitoba Robot Games

Eleven-year-old Zakari Kemoutch built the robot out of Lego, and his twelve-year-old classmate Brooke Audy programmed it to navigate a complex, twisting path without any human input at all.

As the hour approached for their robot’s official test at the 23rd annual Manitoba Robot Games in Winnipeg on Saturday, Audy wasn’t quite sure how the contraption would perform. Still, she was happy to be at the games.

“It was exciting, because it’s my first time here,” said Audy who travelled to the competition at Winnipeg’s Technical Vocational High School from Chief Charles Audy Memorial School in Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation, near Swan Lake.

“There’s a bunch of other robots here, and that’s cool.”

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Competitors learn life lessons at annual Manitoba Robot Games

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Competitors learn life lessons at annual Manitoba Robot Games

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Eleven-year-old Zakari Kemoutch built the robot out of Lego, and his twelve-year-old classmate Brooke Audy programmed it to navigate a complex, twisting path without any human input at all.

As the hour approached for their robot’s official test at the 23rd annual Manitoba Robot Games in Winnipeg on Saturday, Audy wasn’t quite sure how the contraption would perform. Still, she was happy to be at the games.

“It was exciting, because it’s my first time here,” said Audy who travelled to the competition at Winnipeg’s Technical Vocational High School from Chief Charles Audy Memorial School in Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation, near Swan Lake.

‘What we’re doing to students is revealing to them that they’re smarter and more capable than they think they are’ — Herb Reynolds, chairman of the Robot Games planning committee

“There’s a bunch of other robots here, and that’s cool.”

Students put their robotic creations to the test.</p>

Students put their robotic creations to the test.

All around Audy, those cool robots whizzed and whirred as they ran a series of robo-gauntlets. The robots — some tethered to remote controls, others acting autonomously on programmed instructions — pulled weights, followed lines, and competed to flip other robots over in “sumo” events.

Even if her students’ robot didn’t win the day, said Vanessa Zastre, principal at Chief Charles Audy Memorial, they were already learning important lessons — and already thinking about how to improve their line-following robot, and maybe even build a sumo robot for next year’s Robot Games.

“We didn’t come here to win, we came here to spark interest, to experience everything and to get excited about technology,” said Zastre.

Students who compete in the Manitoba Robot Games learn much more than technical skills, said volunteer Alex Smith-Windsor. He works as an aerospace engineer at Boeing, but competed in the games as a high school student in the late 1990s.

“You need to learn how to work together as a team to make decisions and decide what your robot’s going to end up looking like,” said Smith-Windsor.

Kenzie Kleinsasser, 13, does a quick repair before doing another match.</p>

Kenzie Kleinsasser, 13, does a quick repair before doing another match.

“So I think some of the teamwork skills I learned by doing that proved to be very valuable as I went onto university… very few engineering tasks are done solo, you’re typically working in large design teams, so I think it helped prepare me for that, for sure.”

Competitor Nicholas Kleinsasser also said interpersonal skills were the real winner at the Robot Games.

“You learn to get along with other people,” said Kleinsasser, a fifteen-year-old who studies at Crystal Springs School in St. Agathe, Manitoba. Kleinsasser showed up for his fifth Robot Games with three sumo-bots in tow. 

“You learn a skill, and you compete against other people — and especially when you lose, you tend to respect them more, because they designed a robot that’s better than yours.”

Herb Reynolds chairs the planning committee for the Manitoba Robot Games. At the first games 23 years ago, he said, there were only four events in which robots could compete. Now, there are 13 events, said Reynolds, and the robots have gotten much more sophisticated. This year’s event hosted about 200 students from across the province, he said.

Students put their robotic creations to the test at the annual Manitoba Robot Games.</p>

Students put their robotic creations to the test at the annual Manitoba Robot Games.

“We have lots of people go on to technical careers, either as certified technologists or as engineers,” said Reynolds, a former principal at Polson Elementary in Winnipeg.

Even though the young roboticists who compete in the Robot Games are learning about a wide range of scientific concepts, Reynolds said the real lesson was self-confidence.

“What we’re doing to students is revealing to them that they’re smarter and more capable than they think they are,” said Reynolds.

solomon.israel@freepress.mb.ca

@sol_israel

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