I’m always on the lookout for cool ideas and cool programs, and recently I was introduced to one that might just be the coolest yet.
First Robotics Canada is an organization dedicated to inspiring elementary and high school students to pursue careers in science and technology. They do this by mentoring teams of kids that build robots and enter them into competitions, from the local level all the way to international events.
I was introduced to the concept by a couple of really dedicated men: Kevin Saruwatari and Sheldon Baranec. Their day jobs are at Qsine Corporation (www.qsine.ca ), a small Calgary-based custom design and fabrication company. What makes Qsine special is their approach to competency – people might start with one specialty, but they are free to learn and move from welding, to machining, to fabricating to design, as their tastes, talents and the work dictates. This gives their 10-person operation the power and production capability of shops many times larger. (Think about that next time you think about specialized silos for your skilled trades… )
These men and their company are avid supporters of the First Robotics initiative, working with kids from primary through high school to give them the drive and the skill to design and build things. While robots are the vehicle, they see the skills as much broader – the sorts of high-end technical skills that the country needs in both production and maintenance environments for industries from manufacturing to processing to natural resource extraction. As they aptly put it: “you wouldn’t expect a kid to be an NHL player if he only learned to skate after he finished high school; why do we expect that technical people can start so late and be the very best?” It’s an interesting concept, one that harkens back to a time when EVERY kid in Canada had the ability to make things and repair things, and when Meccano sets were the most prized presents under the Christmas tree.
Sheldon and Kevin see a world in the not-to-distant future where one-off, custom design and manufacturing is the norm rather than the exception, where the “maker movement” and digital 3d printing technology democratizes the building of things in a way we can only begin to imagine today. That brave new world calls for skill sets – and mind sets – that we just aren’t fostering in our youth anymore. First Robotics – and its dedicated group of volunteer mentors – aims to change that, one intrepid kid at a time.
The first Western Regional competition was held in Calgary last spring. Canadian teams have gone on to compete and win on the world stage. Canada is a leader in remote manipulation and autonomous vehicle technology – it was announced last week that the Canadian Space Agency is committing our expertise in robotics to an international effort to return to the moon as a stepping stone toward Mars.
I’d like to think that the next generation Canadarm, as well as other lunar and Mars-mission robots, will be designed, built, operated and maintained by First Robotics alumni. It’d be really cool to see more local companies get involved in developing these skills at such an early age.
I urge you to visit First Robotics Canada’s website (www.firstroboticscanada.org ), get in touch with them (firstname.lastname@example.org ), find a local chapter, and get involved. You might just be finding your next generation of skilled technicians, technologists and engineers – and I’m willing to bet you’ll have a heck of a lot of fun in the process!
First Canada logo sources from www.firstroboticscanada.org