Spotlight on geekStarters: APEX Robotics

The APEX Robotics team in 2016 – their first competition year. Without these people, none of what APEX is
doing this year would have been possible.

Want to learn more about APEX Robotics? Check out this recent interview.

While most robotics teams are based out of a particular high school, we are not tied to any
specific school and we have students from all over Calgary, from schools such as Henry Wise
Wood, Robert Thirsk, and Dr. E. P. Scarlett. This kind of independence provides us with
freedoms that we otherwise would not have had – longer hours, simpler travel logistics, but it
also comes with its own set of challenges. Fundraising and recruitment are entirely managed by
the team members with the help of mentors – not an overarching organization like is the case
with most school teams. While it is a greater workload, it also serves as a learning opportunity
for the students involved. One of the most memorable events for our team was qualifying for the First Robotics World
Championships last season. As a team that had just competed for the first time, this was a
momentous accomplishment for us. Not only that, but being in the same space as 600 other
FRC teams was both thrilling and insightful. APEX had taken away interesting design ideas and
team philosophies.

At the end of the build season, we hold parties and team bonding activities to celebrate the
success we achieved together as a team. After our last season ended, we organized a paintball
party with other local Calgarian teams. It was an excellent break from the stress of build season
and an opportunity to bond with the other teams.

This year, we have to build a competition robot that needs to shoot wiffle balls at varying
heights, place gears on a peg, and climb up a rope. In teaming up with two other teams, we also
have to strategize how we are going to use our robot in the field of play.

The aspect of our build that instantly comes to mind is the way that we have done our
brainstorming and design this year. Since we have a greater team size and our members from
last year now have more experience, bouncing ideas off of each other became significantly
easier. In the first week of our build, we were able to agree on a robot design after going
through multiple different strategies and designs suggested by our members. We have been
working towards bringing the agreed upon design to life. Solving the various technical
challenges along the way has also been enhanced by the way that APEX brainstorms this year.
Whenever we have faced a problem, we would often have two or three solutions suggested by
our members. This notion came up recently when we were considering the best way to mount
our climbing mechanism to our robot. After considering multiple ideas, one of our members
realized that we could use C-shaped plates that we already had to support the climbing
mechanism. This approach saved us money and was quite a breakthrough in our climber

For us, our primary challenge this year has been the management of a 30+ person team. While
we are certainly grateful for the increased membership that APEX has seen this year, the
increased team size creates a new challenge for us to handle. Making sure that members are
informed and involved is something that is harder than we had realized with such an increased
size. However, we are quickly adapting to these new circumstances – Our Slack page serves as
a means to inform all members of updates and upcoming events, we have set up timelines with
goals and tasks for every team member to tackle, and we regularly encourage feedback from
fellow members in regard to improving communication within the team. Managing a large
member pool is something that APEX has to master if we want to reach out to an increasing
amount of students in Calgary. We feel that while it is a big challenge, we have made steps to
conquer it.

Most of all, we are excited to attend our two competitions this year – Flagstaff, Arizona and
Calgary, Alberta. By attending these two events, we not only get to see our robot in action, but
we also get to interact with the many teams attending these events. It is always exciting to see a
project that we have been working on for 6+ weeks in action and functioning in the way that we
intended. Obviously, there are many technical challenges that we encounter at and before the
competition, but solving these challenges and getting our robot to function perfectly is satisfying
during every consecutive season of the competition. The other aspect of these events that we
look forward to are the teams – oftentimes the best insight that we get comes from talking to
other teams at the competition. Aside from the competition itself, the big draw is seeing other
teams’ designs in action. At every competition that we have been to, we have made time to talk
to the other teams at the event – about the way that they run their team and about the design
decisions that they have made in regard to their robot. These talks are always informative and
something that we look forward to at every competition.

Our top priority as a team is to ensure that our students succeed. Part of that involves building a
successful robot and having a strong showing at our events, but it also involves the kinds of
skills that the members learn. We have made an active effort to play to each member’s
strengths while encouraging everyone to try something new. By the end of the 2017 season, we
expect to have two completed robots – one to compete with and one for practice, a strong
showing at our two regional competitions, and a more experienced group of student members.
Throughout the season so far, we have been teaching our members the skills involved in
making an FRC robot – they have gotten the opportunity to CAD, program, use machinery such
as laser cutters, plasma cutters, mills and lathes. In addition to that, many members have also
been actively included in the planning and scheduling the build season – allowing them to get a
sense of our priorities while developing their planning/organizational skills. We hope to keep
promoting these kinds of opportunities to learn new skills to all of our students in the months to

Going beyond this current season, the plan is to develop APEX Robotics into one of the
dominant teams in the western canada region. By working with our members extensively, and
effectively passing down knowledge from graduating students, APEX has the potential to build
off of our current momentum in the years to come. By passing down knowledge and keeping our
momentum going, we have the ability to incrementally improve our team with each passing
season. Not only does this apply to our ability to build and compete with a better robot each
year, but also to our community outreach events. With growing resources, we have the capacity
to make a real impact on the community. In preparation for the upcoming off season, we have
begun a project to create smaller replicas of our 2017 robot to show off at various schools,
youth organizations and events. Students would be able to control these smaller robots and play
an easy organizable and accessible one on one game. Depending on the success of these
demonstrations, APEX is considering producing the kits in larger quantities and selling them to
schools and organizations. We feel that this is a step toward interesting more students in STEM
fields, and is something that would not have been possible with our resources during the
previous year.