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VIDEO: B.C. students race custom-built robots at Victoria competition

Both Canadian and international teams will compete at the divisional event

A group of Thomas Haney students have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into bringing a robot to life and are now in Victoria participating in their first-ever robotics competition.

The high school students, known collectively as ThunderTech Robotics, will be up against more than 35 other teams at the FIRST Robotics Competition, with some coming from as far away as Hawaii and China.

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ThunderTech Robotics founder Matvey Okoneshnikov explained that building their robot in preparation for the competition has been a gruelling task for the rookie team.

“We’ve been working on our robot during school, after school, at nights, and even weekends for the past two months,” said Okoneshnikov.

But he’s happy with the end result and is feeling hopeful going into the competition.

“I’m pretty confident in saying that we have the best robot for a first-year team in B.C. It usually takes a few years to get to the point we’re at.”

Okoneshnikov credited Thomas Haney Secondary’s education model as a big reason why the group was able to achieve such success, saying that the largely self-directed structure allowed the students to dedicate a significant amount of their lives to building and improving the robot.

Team member Quinn Gigliotti said that hundreds of man-hours went into constructing the device, and they managed to do it without any significant help from school staff or other outside assistance.

“It’s all student-run,” said Gigliotti. “There are teachers for the trip for safety needs, but all of the design and build sessions were done by students.”

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Now the real test will be whether ThunderTech Robotics can pull off an impressive performance at the FIRST Robotics Competition.

In order to be successful, the team’s robot will need to complete a series of complex tasks against the clock, which Okoneshnikov summarized as shooting rings through various obstacles and then suspending the device from a chain.

“This competition has been ongoing for 40 years and every year they release a new game with a lot of rules,” said Okoneshnikov. “It’s a 200-page manual.”

“It is also a team sport. Every game is played on an alliance with three teams against another alliance of three other teams.”

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Although the team remains hopeful that they will do well in the competition, Okoneshnikov said their primary struggle has been dealing with the high cost of building such a complex robot.

“FIRST Robotics provides us with the bare parts to assemble the drive train, but everything else we have to buy ourselves,” he explained.

“It’s quite expensive,” added Gigliotti.

The registration alone was $8,000, with the total cost of ThunderTech Robotics’ creation hovering around $10,000.

“The most experienced teams usually have millions of dollars in funding,” said Okoneshnikov. “It’s very difficult to compete with that.”

If ThunderTech Robotics manages to get a win at the Victoria event, they will then be invited down to Texas for the championship competition.

But before then, several dozen teams stand in their way, including another Maple Ridge team from Garibaldi Secondary.

The Canadian Pacific Regional event in Victoria will conclude on Saturday, March 2.

Brandon Tucker

About the Author: Brandon Tucker

I have been a journalist since 2013, with much of my career spent covering sports and entertainment stories in Alberta.
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