Simcoe robotics team takes on world

It's called Lunacy. Listening to Greg Phillips describe the premise of the robotics competition in which 22 Governor Simcoe Secondary School students will test their mettle this weekend, the name is apt.

But it's brilliance that got the St. Catharines high school's robotics team, the Simbotics, to the FIRST world robotics championship in Atlanta for the seventh straight year.

Westlane Secondary School in Niagara Falls is also sending a team.

Friday, they will take to the field at the Georgia Dome with their robots to partake in two days of what's been dubbed "the hardest fun ever."

Governor Simcoe is looking to repeat last year's gold medal win at the event, which attracts budding engineers from around the globe.

Here's how it works: the Simbotics will team up with two other high schools, taking on three rivals in a competition called Lunacy.

Each robot will pull a trailer and try to chuck 22-centimetre wiffle balls, called moon rocks, into their opponents' trailers. Those who have accrued the fewest moon rocks at the end of the match win.

But there are a few twists requiring some engineering feats. The playing field is slippery, so traction is key.

Man and machine will also have to work together. Simbotics teammates can throw balls called "free cells" into the game. If their robots retrieve them, they can trade it for a "super cell" worth 15 points if either robot or human land it in an opponent's trailer.

Success isn't about obliterating the competition, though. Team rankings will also be based on opponents' average scores. "The game is extremely hectic and tough to follow," said Greg Phillips, Simbotics coach and Governor Simcoe tech teacher.

Phillips isn't a fan of this year's edition of the championships, however. The six weeks of intensive work on building the robot could become null and void depending on what humans throwing free cells do.

"You just deal with that the best you can. We've got a few tricks up our sleeve. They'll be surprised," Phillips said.

The Simbotics also have a ton of strategy. With 13 people poring over spreadsheets containing data about every team in the competition, the Simbotics aren't going into this blind.

Phillips attributes the success of the team over the years not only to the minds creating the robots, but to the network of support he's built for students.