If you program a robot to be creative, who is more innovative – the human that built that robot, or the artificial intelligence (AI) itself?

It’s these types of questions that are pushing boundaries in the world of robotics, and students in MindFuel’s geekStarter program recently showed how excited they are to tackle the challenge of robots for the future.

On April 9 2017, geekStarter hosted a robotics workshop for two high school teams: Father Mercredi Community High-School from Fort McMurray and APEX Robotics from Calgary. These robotics teams shared their projects and heard from researchers and professionals pursuing engineering and robotics applications in their work. The event allowed students to collaborate, showcase their work and highlighted the success of their geekStarter teams.

“This workshop invited teams to examine robotics projects and applications from new perspectives, and deepened their learning through emphasis on practical, real-life contexts,” says Magdalena Pop, program manager, geekStarter. “Students expanded their skill set and gained new ideas and insights from knowledgeable speakers, which is extremely beneficial to their educations and futures.”

Father Mercredi Community High-School has four teams competing in five regional competitions per season. Making its own contribution to robotics at the school, each team collaborates with the others while building their own specific application at the same time. The school’s presentation highlighted key projects, including:

  • The Pegasus Robotic Arm, involving student programming and automation
  • A robot to collect and assess invasive aquatic species in the local community
  • A dog-training bear robot to teach dogs safe responses in bear territory

These students had just competed at FIRST Robotics Western Canada.

The APEX Robotics team is made up of students from multiple high schools in the Calgary area. APEX brought its robot to FIRST Robotics regional competitions during this season. In March, they competed in Flagstaff, Arizona and they were semi-finalists at the West Canada FR Regionals in Calgary on April 8, 2017 where they placed sixth of 50 teams. The team is supported by Calgary-based Protospace, a makerspace where they build their robots and connect with other designers and innovators in the community.

Panelists Doug Rosvick, Mohammad Moshirpour, and Emily Marasco

The team presentations were followed by sessions given by two guest speakers:

  •  Emily Marasco (PhD Candidate, E.I.T.) invited students to make “creative connections for inspired innovation” and stirred their imagination with striking applications from the arts.
  • Dr. Mohammad Moshirpour (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Calgary) engaged the students in a dialogue about the meaning of automation, its origin and future directions.

The workshop ended with a panel discussion. Guest Doug Rosvick (P.Eng., B.Sc., Software Engineering Senior, Lockheed Martin CDL Systems) and the two speakers each shared their perspectives and insights on robotics and engineering both in today’s world and in the future. The group panel engaged the students in a discussion about critical issues such as ethical and legal implications and mitigating risks associated with robotics and Artificial Intelligence. One of the team advisors commented:

“It was important and inspirational for the students to be able to talk to the industry
representatives and have their perspective.” – Team Advisor

One key learning from the workshop was that to excel in robotics, teams need to have diversity. A successful robotics team requires its members to be engaged in more than just the engineering content behind the robots. Marketing, communication and financial knowledge are just a few of the many skillsets needed to get a robotics application off the ground. These robotics teams mimic startup style entrepreneurial ventures. The inherent creativity and artistic skills in robotics mean that the field is fundamentally cross-disciplinary. Robotics is more than just science and math; there’s something for everyone when it comes to designing a robot.

 “I enjoyed the panel discussion, as it provided an open forum for everyone to speak their mind.
The speakers were also informative and I enjoyed linking creativity with robotics,” – Student in attendance

The next opportunity for teams to meet and present will be the geekStarter high-school Jamboree, hosted in High River on June 10, 2017. Given that these teams’ enthusiasm and knowledge of robotics is growing fast, it will be exciting to see their progress over the next two months. More details about the jamboree will become available soon. Stay tuned!