Victoria Hurricanes Lego robotics team members (back row) Paul Gevers

Kids create Intelligent design

Victoria teens head to international robotics competition

With little money, their fair share of smarts and plenty of teamwork, a group of Victoria youth are heading to Toronto and California with a real stand-up robotic device.

The Hurricanes Lego robotics team, composed of four home-schooled Grade 8 boys, won a regional competition last month and is heading to Lego Land in Carlsbad, California in May for the international championships.

A trip to Toronto is also being hastily planned for the end of April, for a filming of CBC’s Dragon’s Den, where the boys will get to pitch their invention and perhaps find themselves a part of the business world.

What they have come up with is a robotic lift system for a wheelchair that helps people in and out of the chair.

The device fits onto any standard wheelchair, or any other chair, and has a lift which moves the chair into a near-upright position. This allows the person in the wheelchair to more easily stand or elevate themselves.

“They can converse at eye level, they can reach higher things, reach tables or counters,” said team member Micah Alders.

The team started the design in September and, once designed, the actual device took three to four weeks to build. Its framework is all aluminum, cut and bolted by the team, with padding on the seat and arms and a seatbelt, for safety.

First Lego league is an international competitive robotics program for nine to 14 year olds. Teams have at least one adult coach but the youth members must do all of the work.

“We can’t get our dads to build it all for us,” Liam Ensing said.

There are many facets to being successful in competition. There is managing to build, program, operate, and keep functioning, whatever robotic device the team has devised. There’s also the element of teamwork and selling your ideas to judges.

“A lot of things can go wrong,” Liam said. “Your files can get corrupted right before the competition, your robot’s actual structural integrity can stop working.”

“You might have built this robot in your house and it worked perfectly,” Micah said. “(But) only one thing has to unclip and cause more friction and all of a sudden every single thing will be off.”

Team members, which also includes Paul Gevers and Mason Jennings, explained participating in the event teaches them computer programming, engineering, physics and math, along with teamwork.

“I like working with my hands a lot,” Mason said. “We were all practicing soldering all the wires together and stuff like that.”

To get to Toronto and California, the team must pay its own way, with an estimated price tag of $15,000. To raise money, the boys are looking for donations. A bottle drive is ongoing and the team has already received a $1,000 donation from the Victoria Evening Optimists Club.

On Friday, March 29 the team will be at the Wal-Mart at Uptown with their wheelchair device to talk to people, explain their invention and accept donations.

Donations should be brought or mailed to Jennings Florists (2508 Estevan Ave., V8R 2S7), returnable bottles can also be brought to that location.