Indigenous robotics squad gears up for international competition in Dubai

Thursday, July 18th, 2019 2:20pm



“There was a little bit of hesitation at first because of the cost, but because of the opportunity and the experience this was something we knew we had to make happen.” —Deanna Burgart, president of Indigenous Engineering Inclusion
By Sam Laskaris Contributor

An Alberta-based robotics team, primarily featuring Indigenous youth, has accepted an invitation to compete at an event in Dubai this October.

And now members of the club, which is called The Gearheads, is fundraising to help cover the $50,000 in expenses they will incur while travelling to and from the United Arab Emirates for their competition.

The FIRST Global Challenge, which is staged in a different country each year, will be held Oct. 24 to Oct. 27 at the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai.

The Gearheads will be representing Canada at the competition.

Deanna Burgart, the president of Indigenous Engineering Inclusion, will be one of the two co-mentors who will be joining the seven youth that comprise The Gearheads for their international competition.

Officials from the FIRST Global Challenge invited The Gearheads to represent the country at this year’s competition about a month ago.

“There was a little bit of hesitation at first because of the cost,” Burgart said. “But because of the opportunity and the experience this was something we knew we had to make happen.”

The Gearheads’ contingent features teenagers ages 14 to 18. Five of the seven youth in the club are Indigenous. The Indigenous members all live in Treaty 7 territory in southern Alberta.

Each year participants at the FIRST Global Challenge are given a task in an effort to foster understanding and co-operation among youth of the world while they attempt to solve a world problem.

Themes of the annual competition are based on the 14 Grand Challenges of Engineering, as identified by the National Academy of Engineering.

A total of 75 countries had representatives at the 2018 competition held in Mexico City.

This year’s challenge is being dubbed Ocean Opportunities.

The goal of this year’s themed event is to raise awareness and to take actions to preserve the world’s oceans and wildlife.

It’s no secret humans annually generate millions of tons of pollutants, which end up in oceans around the world. These pollutants have negative effects on marine life and global populations.

Participating teams at this year’s FIRST Global Challenge will be educated on the difficulties faced by those responsible for cleaning up oceans worldwide.

Clubs participating at the Dubai competition will partner together to form various alliances. These alliances will then build robots from kits provided to serve as cleanup crews to collect pollutants from the ocean.

The effectiveness of the cleanup crews will be judged.

Logan Arcilla, the other co-mentor for The Gearheads contingent, said the club has a simple goal for what will be its first international competition.

“We’re hoping just to get some experience,” he said. “But the thing about The Gearheads is they tell me they just want experience. But they also like placing.”

Baker Hughes, a GE company, set the Gearhead’s fundraising efforts off on a positive note by making a $2,500 donation.

Burgart is hoping many others will also want to financially support The Gearheads.

“I think the opportunity to support a team that is over 50 per cent Indigenous will give them a chance for some global exposure,” Burgart said of potential sponsors. “And it will show these kids there is a whole world out there. It will give them a chance to see part of it.”

Sponsorship money is required to help cover The Gearheads’ flights, accommodations, meals and other transportation costs while taking part in Dubai.

The Gearheads still have a long way to go with their fundraising efforts.

“It’s a group fundraising effort,” Burgart said. “We meet weekly now to talk about it. We’re planning to have a silent auction and some other fundraisers.”

That includes a fundraising campaign in which members of the robotics squad will be selling gift cards from participating companies and restaurants. The youth will get a percentage from each of the gift cards they sell.

The Gearheads were formed in 2016 to learn about robotics, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and programming. The club has competed in four events this year and placed first in a pair of Calgary events.

They also participated at events in Red Deer and Edmonton.

Burgart is confident The Gearheads will be able to have some respectable results on the world stage.

“I think they’ll do great,” she said. “They’ve done really great in their competitions so far. They’re definitely excited not only about competing but also bringing their culture to the competition.”