Masters of robots

Mount Baker Secondary School students return home after successful showing at Skills Canada competition.

  • Apr. 21, 2016 7:00 p.m.
Connor Dickeson

Connor Dickeson

Students from Mount Baker Secondary School have returned from Abbotsford with a haul of medals after striking gold and bronze in a robotics competition.

Connor Dickeson, Traycer Walker, Thomas Keehn and Ryley Holliday won gold in the robotics division of the Skills Canada competition, while Nicholas McGee and Ricky Zaugg won bronze.

Conrad Cameron also earned a bronze medal in an individual cabinet-making competition. Cameron was given a set of blueprints, materials and tools and six hours with access to a full shop to complete his project.

The students, under the supervision of Bill Walker, picked up their hardware while competing at the annual Skills Canada competition and Dickeson, Walker, Keehn and Holliday will be taking their robot to New Brunswick for nationals in May.

“I’m trying to get them ready for it because it’s kind of scary. Our robot isn’t beautiful, but it works really well,” Walker said.

“I told the guys we don’t necessarily care if it’s beautiful as long as it works right. And it does, it works really well. I’m impressed, because I didn’t know if we could do this.”

The students themselves were happy with their results, having worked with Walker since the beginning of the fall semester to build their ‘bots.

“Ours was one of the only ones that was built from scratch,” said Thomas Keehn, a member of the gold team. “It was one of the better built ones because it was able to do more than the other competitors and we also had more practice than the other teams.”

Nicholas McGee, who won bronze alongside Ricky Zaugg, said the silver match was the toughest one of the competition.

“We were winning against every other team before, but silver was our biggest competition, before the bronze,” McGee said.  “It was a very close match it was only about one piece away between bronze and silver.”

The actual competition features a closed off course with obstacles and parts littered inside. The robots, controlled by a driver, must collect the parts and build a wooden boat in under four minutes. Teams advance on a points-based scoring system.

The students work from the start of the fall semester to build their robots for the Skills Canada competition. Walker does his recruiting in September to find students that would be interested in participating and then they plan out their builds.

“We sit at the front of the classroom and talk about how can we do that? We did try a lot of things that didn’t work. We tried using suction cups to pick up the pieces for the boat, but it didn’t work. It wasn’t strong enough,” said Walker.

“We tried different kinds of grippers. Usually the first time we make the thing that tries to grab the piece, you find that it doesn’t work well enough, so you have to modify that.

“Sometimes the motors aren’t strong enough for what you’re doing. There’s a lot of trial and error.”

The Skills Canada competition has a number or rules that the ‘bots must adhere to, such as being smaller than six cubic feet. The Mount Baker ‘bots are powered by 12-volt DC batteries and can’t exceed 240 watts.

In addition to Walker, the students also get support from John Milner, a local machinist.

“He’s awesome,” said Walker. “WIthout John on the team, we couldn’t do all this. Between the two of us, we have the knowledge to get the job done, and it works pretty well.”

Nationals will be across the country in Moncton, New Brunswick, and Walker is putting out a call for fundraising to help the students make the trip. He adds that there has been a lot of valuable community support for the robotics program over the years.

“It’s going to cost close to $16,000 to send the robot and the team there because it’s a multi-day event,” Walker said. “It’s a huge deal and it’s going to be really cool for the students. They’ll get to see how other provinces build robots, they’ll get to have ideas and talk to those guys. It’s a great experience.

“They’ll get to see how other provinces build robots, they’ll get to have ideas and talk to those guys. It’s a great experience.”

If anyone is interested in helping cover costs for the robotics trip to nationals, contact Mount Baker Secondary School at 250-426-5241 or email Walker at