By CHRISTIE ROOME
Salt Spring Island is famous for disc golf — most notably at Mouat Park and the Salt Spring Golf Club. But why get tired or risk a rotator cuff injury by throwing the discs yourself when you can get a robot to do it? That’s what Gulf Islands Secondary School Robotics team thought when they
entered Spin Up.
On Saturday, Feb. 4, the Cyber/Scorpions hosted their first regional competition, where 34 teams from Vancouver Island came to Salt Spring to compete in the 2023 VEX Robotics Competition. Each year, VEX announces a new challenge. In May 2022, they revealed Spin Up, a robotics competition where teams build robots to compete in what amounts to a robotic disc golf game.
The Cyber/Scorpions program started in 2017 and the team has competed almost annually. During COVID, they didn’t travel to competitions, but competed via webcam. Last year the Cyber/Scorpions competed in three regional competitions on Vancouver Island. This year’s team is the largest yet, with 30 students from grades 8 to 12 participating in this year’s VEX competition. These students have been meeting weekly since September to build robots in small teams. Seven teams have made seven thoughtfully designed robots fabricated and programmed to operate both remotely and autonomously to meet the competition’s specifications and goals for the game-based engineering challenge.
Teacher Rachel FitzZaland leads the team, assisted by five mentors from our community: Dan Perry, Lochinvar Roome, Paul FitzZaland, Richard Swann and Alex Pym. These industry professionals with skills in engineering, industrial design and computer science meet with the team weekly to support the students with their builds. The Robotics program aims to increase student interest and involvement in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) by engaging youth in designing and building robots. Students of different ages, abilities and interests who might not otherwise play on sports teams or belong to extracurricular groups engage in teamwork, leadership, communication, critical thinking, computer-aided design, programming and engineering. Students working with industry professional volunteers can gain more knowledge about future careers and educational pathways.
Although there is no cost to students, the program is expensive. In addition to yearly VEX registration costs and individual competition registration costs for all Cyber/Scorpion teams, the program has to pay for field elements, robotics components, materials, tools and equipment to build the robots and practise for the competitions. Access to enough robotics equipment is vital to keep teams small and ensure student equity and inclusion on the robotics team. The Cyber/Scorpions are grateful for financial support received from the Wilding Foundation, Salt Spring Island Foundation, Country Grocer and GISS’s Parent Advisory Council. Without financial support from these companies and organizations, this program could not exist.
This tournament really became a community event with equipment loans and donations from: Salt Spring Inn, Salt Spring Film Festival, Salt Spring Lions Club, Royal Canadian Legion Branch #92, Country Grocer and Yerba Matte.