Last fall, William Mostrenko was unhappy with his marks in his Grade 12 robotics class at Heritage Woods Secondary School.
In April, he could be a world champion.
Mostrenko is part of the Biland VEX robotics team, one of two teams from HWSS that’s qualified for the world championships in Dallas, Texas, April 25–28.
They’re the first competitive robotics teams from the Tri-Cities to earn a place amongst the 800 teams from high schools around the world that will be at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Centre showcasing their abilities to design, build and program robots that can flip plastic discs into a basket against the clock and against opponents.
Mostrenko said he’d quit competitive robotics at the beginning of the school year because of the massive time commitment after classes and on weekends it takes to develop and tinker a championship-calibre robot.
But last December, he realized that immersion had actually been a benefit to his studies, so he teamed up with Michael Benzvi and Iris Qin to get back in the game.
“This is the team that wasn’t supposed to be,” Mostrenko said of the collaboration.
With a four-month deficit to other teams that had already been working on their robots since September, the Biland group concentrated on developing a robot built for the speed and accuracy required in skills competitions against the clock — rather than one that also has to withstand the attacks from an opponent in the battle arena.
“We could build it really fast because build quality doesn’t matter as much,” Mostrenko said. “There’s no worries about getting rammed.”
Success at local competitions and Mecha Mayhem in Calgary, Canada’s first signature VEX robotics event that was held in early February, gave the Biland team the momentum it needed to get a result at the regional championships and earn a trip to Dallas where it will be joined by the other team from Heritage Woods, Windex.
Tiago Desousa, Elia Sheikh and Logan Dennis said they’ve put about 2,000 hours of work into their robot that will compete in the battle arena.
Dennis, who will be driving the Windex team’s robot in Dallas, said the process of designing and building their champion robot began even before the school year started and will continue right until they place it in the battle arena.
That includes several rebuilds and reprogramming as ideas are gleaned from other robots they encounter at competitions.
In fact, it’s that collaborative atmosphere that’s one of the appeals of competitive robotics, Dennis said, as teams compete in pairs and will help each other tweak their robots for optimal performance.
“You take inspiration from other teams,” he said. “You see what they’re doing and determine how we can do it better.”
“A lot comes from the passion of always wanting to do better,” added Sheikh.
Dennis said getting their robot to the world championships will elevate their robotics’ skills even further. It’s also an exciting opportunity to enhance the reputation of the robotics program at Heritage Woods.
“It’ll be a completely new experience,” he said. “It’ll be a first for our school.”