World championship for local robotics team

A robotics team from Governor Simcoe Secondary School became a world champion this weekend.

The Simbotics, a team of 25 tech-minded students aged 14 to 18, won the annual FIRST Championship in Atlanta, Ga., teaming up with students from Texas and Michigan to take down 350 other teams. Spectators at the competition included astronauts, Internet executives and former president George H.W. Bush.

“We are absolutely ecstatic,” said Catherine McNamara, a team mentor and employee at General Motors, which sponsors the Simbotics.

For months, 1,500 teams from eight countries have competed in regional competitions to advance to Atlanta. Competitors came from the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Chile, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The Simbotics won a trio of regional competitions to make it to the finals.

It was the sixth time the team competed at the worlds, but the gold had always eluded them, said Greg Phillips, team coach and tech teacher at Governor Simcoe. Last year, they made it to the semifinals.

But at this year’s competition, which was April 17 to 19, they won the Galileo division to advance to the Einstein division, where they partnered with the Robowranglers from Greenville, Texas and the ThunderChickens of Sterling Heights, Mich., Phillips said. The group is now “satisfied and elated.”

“This is the largest robotics competition in the world, basically,” he said. “This is a big thing.”

The team played 18 matches over three days, arriving at the Georgia Dome at 6 a.m. every day, said McNamara. A delegation of 57 people travelled from St. Catharines.

Despite the regional wins, the Simbotics took nothing for granted, she said.

“We’d won three regionals, but so had other teams,” she said. “You cannot be confident going to Atlanta. You are up against the best.”

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) has $10 million in scholarships to universities and engineering schools such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgia Institute of Technology. The organization was founded by Dean Kamen, inventor of such applications as a mobile dialysis system and the insulin pump.

“Years from now, some of the students who competed in the Georgia Dome will be inventing solutions to society’s most challenging problems,” Kamen said in a media release.

The team used a modular robotics kit to compete in the “Quad Quandary” challenge, in which robots place rings on goals and move goals around the field.

A team from Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School also went to Atlanta and was a quarter-finalist in its division.