The Esquimalt Atom Smashers do maintenance on Spike, the robot they designed, engineered and built to compete in the recent B.C. Regional FIRST Robotics Competition at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre. The team from Esquimalt High walked away with the Rookie All Star Award, qualifying them for the World Championship next month in Houston, Texas. Arnold Lim/BLACK PRESS

Esquimalt High robotics students engineer their way to Texas

Rookie team qualifies for FIRST World Championship after breathing life into armed robot Spike

Have you met Spike?

He’s the robot designed, engineered, built and driven entirely by the Esquimalt Atom Smashers, a group of Esquimalt High students who are en route to Houston, Texas to compete in the FIRST Robotics World Championship.

The Atom Smashers took home the Rookie All Star Award in their first attempt behind the controls at the B.C. Regional competition last week at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, qualifying to compete against teams from all over the world next month in Texas.

“I call us the little team that could,” says Tina O’Keefe, the Smashers’ lead coach and a computer science teacher at Esquimalt High, the school with the smallest team and the biggest win.

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The whole thing started when FIRST Robotics made a presentation at the school and shortly after, O’Keefe was approached by one of her particularly tech-savvy students, who asked if they could implement the program at their school.

She told him he had two hours to find eight more interested students and she’d consider it – he came back with 13 a half hour later.

The competition, hosted by international youth organization, FIRST (For Inspiration, Recognition of Science and Technology) drew teams with an average of 20 students. The Atom Smashers crushed the competition with just 12 of them.

“It’s a lot of strategy, a lot of team-building skills,” O’Keefe says, in addition to the science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) skills the students put to use.

FIRST Robotics provided a basic kit that, combined with the students’ ingenuity would eventually turn into Spike, the armed robot. Local businesses also chipped in, offering tools, safety goggles, paint and even some tips on mechanics.

Competition was fierce and exciting, O’Keefe says, but not without its challenges. At the last minute, the team had to borrow a motor for one of Spike’s arms after one blew.

“These were the kinds of things we had to problem-solve,” O’Keefe says. “Everybody’s in there with a drill, everybody’s making things happen.”

As an educator, she says, it’s been a phenomenal experience.

Before the team heads to Houston April 18 to 21, (you can watch the competition live here) they’re hitting the ground to fundraise for the trip, partially funded by FIRST. A Go Fund Me page has been set up as well as a sponsorship page on the team’s website.

“A lot of sweat and grit went into this, but they made it,” O’Keefe says. “To me it’s no different than winning a seat to nationals for basketball. They deserve to be where they are.”

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com

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