Brampton’s STEAM is rooted in STEM

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Teams from Brampton are competing at the 2018 VEX Robotics World Championship

By Victoria Kaye

As Brampton begins to realize the dream of a STEAM-powered university to drive the future, today our city is standing tall on the STEM world stage.

A number of student teams from Brampton are set to take the world stage at this year’s VEX World Robotics Competition held in Louisville, Kentucky. 400 teams will be competing, with fifteen teams hailing from Brampton.

VEX Robotics Design Systems, in association with the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation, has been hosting regional, national and global tournaments for 11 years in their effort to encourage youth around the world to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) studies. Over 20,000 teams from 40 nations have competed.

Castlebrook Secondary School is sending three teams. North Park Secondary School’s Viking Robotics is sending four teams. A team originally from Chinguacousy Secondary School who, since its 2014 championship, has continued as the not-for-profit organization called Brampton Robotics is sending six teams. Known as Discobots, they were also the 2016 VEX World champions in both the High School and Elementary categories.

Returning to this year’s competition as 2017’s VEX IQ Challenge Middle School World Champion, winner of the VEX IQ Challenge Robot Skills and two other awards, are the KraftWerx Gladiators, a team of Grade 9 friends from various Brampton area high schools. This year, they move up a class to the High School categories and a new foursome of Grade 7 & 8 students assume their winning team number, 555A.

Typically, cities only see one or two teams making it this far. The fact that Brampton is sending fifteen of the top 400 teams to the VEX World Championships is outstanding. We are actually sending more teams than most provinces and, according to VEX World’s PR firm, Brampton consistently does well on the national and global stages of these competitions.

Each year, VEX Robotics challenges the student teams with an exciting engineering problem in the form of a game. This helps the learning process by giving both beginner and advanced students an achievable goal to work towards in an extremely supportive environment, with mentoring by teachers, coaches and peers.

KraftWerx is not a school team; it is a home-based robotics group with a mechanical engineer and father as their coach. “It started with my son,” explains coach Saranjit Wilkoo. “He saw all my tools while growing up and I would find him playing with them. A few years ago, these guys were all on their laptops, playing games. I said, Let’s use the laptops for something more results-oriented.” That’s how Saranjit got the kids involved in these ongoing STEM-based games that lasts 8-9 months. He couldn’t do it alone, so he called up friends and work colleagues from the Brampton area and found more kids that were like-minded and wanting to get into robotics.

“Our robot is a lot more complex than the one we built last year,” begins Saranjit’s son Tejas Wilkoo. “We always build our robot around a specific game. This year, VEX designed it so we must stack cones.” With great detail and easy wording by Tejas and the team, it was easy to understand the mechanics of their sport.

“The way to make points is determined by how we play with an allied team against two opposing teams,” Aryan Shah explains. At the beginning of a game, they meet their allies for the first time and only have a set time to collaborate and strategize with them.

“The brain of the robot is here,” points Sahaej Arora, as their robot works from their ability to manipulate its behaviour through the technology provided. Though there is no combat, it is very competitive – a battle of wits using joysticks and computer programming.

“The technology processing is everything,” states Krish Panzade, explaining the main game-changer is the way they apply the technology. “Though the structural frame of all the competing robots may be the same, additional alter-sonic sensors give the robot human-like abilities. Technology, hardware and software are all combined, making a really good application of the robot.”

Working as a team is one of the life skills achieved, as demonstrated by how smoothly explaining the mechanics of their operation passes from one to another, like a baton in a relay team. The new junior team, including middle school students Darsh Panzade, Aryan Shah, Shaan Mehta and Hrishi Taylor, is in its first VEX World Competition. This team currently ranks first in Canada, and fifth in the world. Similar to the KraftWerx senior team, their task is based on how their robot works and performs on the field.

In a match, there will be two robots, each from a different team, attempting to achieve the same goal. In addition to game-play, Aryan explains, “VEX Robotics mainly promotes STEM. In our division, we also have to do a STEM project where we research products that aren’t related to robotics, find a problem and, using robotics, determine how we can fix the problem.” Just like the senior team, they explain their task and the mechanics of competition in perfect four-part harmony.

Here is where the future looks bright…

Most competition is based on combat. A winner is determined by beating the opponent. In the world of robotics and STEM ideology, the winner reigns supreme by how well they all get along. In most cases, teams are paired with and against other teams who do not necessarily speak the same language. It’s all about their ability to collaborate, manage the project, and accomplish the task while troubleshooting along the way.

“It’s not easy to qualify for the Worlds,” Saranjit states. “With each passing year, it becomes more and more difficult.”

Interestingly, these experiences are opening up new conversations and career paths in the young participants. That is what STEM is all about, and probably why Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey has been championing towards bringing a STEM-based University which also includes the Arts to spell STEAM to Brampton. Ryerson is leading the charge as they have teamed up with Sheridan College with plans to break ground in Brampton soon. It’s obvious —whatever is in the water we drink, our well runs deep with potential.

It’s encouraging to know that so many kids are wanting to pursue STEM and STEAM-oriented education and careers. They could all be the first to enroll in Brampton’s University.

“Basically, whatever we are learning, we can easily apply to our future,” shares Krish. “Suppose I want to go into mechanical or hardware engineering. Macro engineering is programming and building at the same time. Giant space stations and companies like NASA are using technology like this, but on a larger and wider scale. I’m now interested in either or both —it’s intriguing.”

“I’ve noticed I am more open to enlightening experiences,” Tejas confesses. “I now realize I will definitely be pursuing engineering or robotics as a career.”

As robotics can lend themselves to many fields, Aamodot Acharya of the KraftWerx Senior team has discovered a potential career path for himself which is slightly different. “I wanted to pursue biology, but then I got into this, and now have two passions. I recently found out there are biomedical engineering jobs where my experience from robots can be applied to my passion for biology.”

During Stand Up 4 Brampton’s recent interview with Ryerson’s President Dr. Mohamed Lachemi, he explained that Ryerson offers these programs, including work experience through their collaboration with St. Michael’s Hospital where biomedical engineering and science students work alongside clinicians.

Now, combine this with Seneca’s World renowned robotics programs… Aamodot has a lot of educational options opening up to him.

Similar career choices are being considered by the younger KraftWerx members. Shaan wants to be a zoologist and apply what he is learning in robotics to saving animals from extinction — creative. It’s exciting to see how little effort is needed to change career paths.

The only flood we should worry about coming into downtown Brampton is the tsunami wave of talent that is heading this way in the very near future. Brampton’s new university is slated to begin classes September 2022. It will be just in time for these kids to be Brampton’s first STEAM students.

VEX Robotics World Competitions start April 25th and conclude May 1.

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