Surrey students headed to world robotics championship

‘Hephaestus’ team is the only group from B.C. advancing to the global competition

Callum Learmonth

Callum Learmonth

NORTH SURREY Students from North Surrey Secondary’s robotics team are headed to the World Championships in Texas from April 19 to 22.

The team of 35 students, called Hephaestus, is the only B.C. group advancing to the worlds.

“It’s been insane,” said Julie Occleshaw, career development facilitator at the high school. “We fly out Tuesday morning.”

Hephaestus qualified for the global competition after winning the Rookie Allstar Award in the Western Canadian Regional FIRST Robotics competition in Calgary which hosted 50 teams from seven countries the weekend of April 8.

Considering this is the first year the robotics club has ever existed, getting to the worlds was no small feat.

“We are indeed a rookie team,” Occleshaw told the Now-Leader. “When they started no one knew anything about anything. We knew a little bit about programming in java, but nothing about robotics. We actually used C++ which is quite advanced. So they learned C++ to be able to do this.

“I didn’t think we’d make it to the worlds,” she said excitedly. “We just hoped to have a rookie that drove, and we focused our effort on that Rookie Allstar Award.”

North Surrey Secondary’s Hephaestus robotics team, pictured after recently winning the Rookie All-Star Award in a Calgary competition that qualified them to compete in the worlds. (Photo submitted)

Three other Surrey schools competed L.A. Matheson, Semiahmoo, Princess Margaret. Together, as an all-Surrey alliance, the four high schools advanced to the quarter-finals.

But as the only team headed to the worlds, Hephaestus members are frantically preparing.

“We shipped robot Tuesday (April 11),” said Occleshaw. “We had to create the crate, there’s a particular type of wood and dimensions they require. Tut the robot was built and designed in six week period in January. You have six weeks from when they reveal challenge to bag and tag.”

Morgan Ng, a Grade 9 student at North Surrey Secondary, said it’s been an “amazing experience.”

“I want to be a mechatronics engineer when I grow up,” she said. “My grandpa was an electrical engineer and I didn’t really get to meet him for very long but my dad told me a lot about him. I think in Grade 5 I started really getting interested in engineering and playing around.”

This year, Ng said she largely helped with the designing and prototyping the team’s robot.

She laughed as she said “tons of people” are surprised to hear she is on a robotics team, “not only because of my age,” she explained, “but because I’m a female. A lot of people have been surprised.”

Ng said she looks forward to getting to Texas and competing in the worlds because she won’t be as nervous as she was at the worlds, and hopes “going to capture the experience instead of rushing.”

Callum Learmonth, also in Grade 9, is Ng’s best friend and said they “king of went into it together.”

Callum said he really enjoyed learning about robotics and engineering, but also the people he met along the way.

“We’ve met people from all over, from Australia, Turkey, Poland, China, U.S. and Canada. It’s been really good.”

Establishing the robotics team was Occleshaw’s idea.

“I am not a technical person at all,” Occleshaw said. “My affiliation is I have a sister who is a homeschooling parent in Ontario and she started doing this with her kids. They are now all engineers, full-ride scholarships and it’s just amazing the opportunities it opened up.

“I wanted to get that on the books and make sure we had this opportunity for our kids,” added Occleshaw.

But North Surrey wasn’t the only school awarded at the Calgary competition earlier this month. The L.A. Matheson team took home the Judges Award, while Princess Margaret earned the Industrial Design award.

For more information on the global competition visit www.firstchampionship.org.

amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com