• Tessa Bousfield posted an article
    The Victoria team was one of only three from Canada at the competition. see more

    Source: Times Colonist
    Author: Andrew Duffy

    Greater Victoria students honoured in U.S. for robotics

    A team of Greater Victoria high school students has jousted with iron giants and come away with top marks, after a global robotics competition in Texas last week.

    The team, called 3491-FIX IT, comprised of students Guy Stoppi and Alec Krawciw of Mount Douglas Secondary, Helen Leslie from Victoria High, Aila Simpson from the Pacific School of Inquiry and Innovation and Benjamin Dam, a home-schooled student, won the First Tech Challenge competition’s Inspire Award, the highest honour available to recognize excellence in robot design and teamwork.

    Simpson was singled out for a Dean’s List Award at the First Tech Challenge robotics contest, the first time a Canadian student has been selected.

    “It was fantastic, amazing, phenomenal,” said team coach Christine Nicholls. “From our point of view, we are a small team in a small region and to come out ahead of the big teams with big corporate money behind them is amazing.”

    Nicholls said there were about 7,000 teams vying to land one of 128 spots at the tournament in Houston. The Victoria team was one of only three from Canada at the competition.

    “All of the credit goes to the students,” she said, noting they were over the moon when they won. “They were absolutely stunned.”

    And they all now have a taste of creating, designing and engineering a machine, which is the idea behind the First program and competition.

    First is a not-for-profit organization designed to inspire young people to look at a future in science and high-tech.

    The First Tech Challenge, which challenges teams to design, build, program and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge, brought together 1,200 international students to pit their engineering and design skills against each other.

    “First is all about getting kids interested in careers in science and technology,” said Nicholls. She noted First has had success on that front with its studies showing one in every three young women who take part go on to engineering studies, and most of the students involved go on to university.

    Eric Jordan, chief executive of gaming company Codename Entertainment and one of the team’s sponsors, said this kind of competition can only bode well for the tech sector. “Robots are cool. They are a great way to get high school students excited about careers in tech,” Jordan said. “The industry currently forecasts that by 2021 there will be an unmet job demand of 30,500 and this program is one of the ways in which we will address this unmet need.”

    Nicholls said the Inspire Award came down to the team’s overall excellence as it placed highly in all judged categories ranging from aesthetics, innovative design, engineering through to community outreach. But the robot, called Fermion, also had to perform. “At the start of every match the robot has to fit inside an 18”x18”x18” box and once the match starts it can open out,” she said, noting it then has to pick up a series of balls on a course, shoot them, and pick up a large yoga ball and balance it on a metre-high stand.

  • Tessa Bousfield posted an article
    Over 100 young people ages 14-18 years old will be competing on Sunday, February 19, 2017 from 9-5 see more

    FIRST® Students Compete in BC Championship

    Victoria, BC – Feb. 14, 2017- Very few athletes will ever compete in a Super Bowl but what sport can every student in British Columbia go Pro in? The sport of science, technology, engineering and math. Over 100 young people ages 14-18 years old will be competing on Sunday, February 19, 2017 from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. in the FIRST Tech Challenge Championship at the University of Victoria, 3800 Finnerty Rd, Victoria, BC V8P 5C2. Twelve FIRST Tech Challenge teams from British Columbia, Alberta, Washington State, and Romania will play in this season's “Velocity Vortex” game.

    These students will be exercising their mind, working as teams, problem solving (all workforce skills) as their primary resource to find their spark for competition today with a possible career pathway for tomorrow. “These kids have gotten involved with a FIRST team for different reasons. Maybe it was to socialize or maybe it was because they already had an interest in STEM. Whatever the reason in addition to the robot building and programming skills, they are learning workforce development skills such as troubleshooting; collaboration; communication skills to help each of them go Pro”, Christine Nicholls, FIRST Tech Challenge Affiliate Partner for British Columbia.

    Starting in September, teams have designed, built and programmed a robot to complete in game challenges like shooting particles into a vortex. One team will earn a spot at the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championships in Houston, TX from April 19-22, 2017.

    Opening ceremonies will be at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday. The best time to watch robot games is between 1:30-4:00 p.m. in ELW, Faculty of Engineering building at the University of Victoria. Admission is free and the public are welcome. For more information contact Christine Nicholls at or 778-587-7554.

    About FIRST
    FIRST in a nonprofit organization that ignites youthful minds through education, hard work, mentorship and healthy competition. Students in FIRST, from kindergarten through high school, participate in exciting, Mentor-based, research and robotics programs that help them become science and technology leaders, as well as well-rounded contributors to society. More information about FIRST is available at: or

  • Martin Taylor posted an article
    The Nautilus, owned by Ballard’s Ocean Exploration Trust, sets out from Victoria today. see more

    Source: Times Colonist
    Author: Jeff Bell

    The man credited with finding the wreck of the Titanic in 1985 is providing his research vessel for an expedition to benefit the renowned underwater laboratory systems run by University of Victoria -based Ocean Networks Canada.

    Robert Ballard knows ONC president Kate Moran from their days together at the University of Rhode Island, so he was happy to have the ship Nautilus, with all of its specialized equipment, put to good use by his friend. He said he will keep a close eye on the trip from his computers at home in Connecticut.

    The Nautilus, owned by Ballard’s Ocean Exploration Trust, sets out from Victoria today and will soon join up with another research vessel, the Thomas G. Thompson, from the University of Washington. Both have robotic vehicles that can transmit real-time video from deep in the ocean, and both will be involved in servicing ONC’s two main systems — NEPTUNE and VENUS.

    NEPTUNE extends into the Pacific Ocean and VENUS goes from Saanich Inlet into the Salish Sea, while another system has also been established in the Arctic. VENUS was established in 2006, NEPTUNE in 2009 and the Arctic system in 2012.

    All of the systems are made up of arrays of cables that connect equipment able to compile data with application to fisheries, marine traffic, earthquakes, tsunamis and more.

    More than $200 million has gone into the project, much of it from the federal government. Funding has also come from the provincial government and a number of other sources.

    Ballard won’t be on the ONC voyage, but was on the Nautilus on Monday talking about the work his ship can do. He said that even with the tasks to be done by ONC, Nautilus has other things to accomplish, as well.

    “We’re always exploring,” he said from the ship’s studio area, complete with monitors that comb ocean activity. “When we do it we’re running this ship like the emergency room of a hospital. We have no idea what’s going to come before our cameras.”

    If something is seen, perhaps an undersea mountain range that could be a new find, a network of scientists can be informed, Ballard said.

    “The point is that we can reach out anywhere.”

    Bringing in organizations such as ONC is also a priority, he said.

    “Kate will be flanked by teachers and educators,” Ballard said. “We bring out a huge number of scientists, students, all levels of the educational system.”

    Moran said the effort to maintain and examine NEPTUNE and VENUS has to happen on a regular basis.

    “Unlike space exploration, it’s really hard to keep sensors in the ocean,” she said. “It’s just because it’s high pressure, a wide range of temperature and we’re in a corrosive environment.”

    She said the robotic vehicle on the Nautilus, known as Hercules, has arms that can be manipulated from the surface to do a variety of tasks. She said scientists from around the world can be contacted to offer advice for the precise moves that Hercules will make.

    Having the use of Ballard’s Nautilus, one of only two such ships in the world, is “fantastic,” Moran said.

    “He’s specially built this for exactly what we do — connecting what we do on the sea floor with our scientific community.”

    The public can tune in during the voyage at or, Moran said.