Feel good about your information and become a local news champion today

Mecha Mayhem: Calgary hosts massive international VEX robotics competition

The goal: Create a robotics system that can fire a flat sphere at a target.

Basically, disc golf for robots, said Justin Zhou, Western Mechatronics member, and spokesperson for the upcoming student-hosted international robotics event in Calgary this weekend.  

More than 110 teams from all over the world will be at the BMO Centre in Calgary in the first-ever Canadian signature VEX Robotics Competition (VRC) called Mecha Mayhem. VEX is an international robotics organization that supplies tools for students to create and build robots. There are more than 22,000 international teams using the VEX robotics education platform.

Each year, a new game design is brought in for the competition. Students must put together a robot that can compete in that challenge. This year’s game is called Spin Up.

“It is basically a robot version of disc golf,” he told LiveWire Calgary.

“Teams gotta build a robot that can shoot frisbees into frisbee goals. It’s a two-v-two competition and it’s a lot of fun to watch.”

Zhou, a Calgary resident studying at the University of Waterloo, said it’s a real honour for their club – Western Mechatronics Robotics Club – to be chosen to host Canada’s first signature event.

“It’s basically a large international tournament, that is meant to replicate the feel of the World Championship,” he said.  

“Since not all teams can qualify for a world championship, Signature events like ours are designed to make sure everyone gets that worlds level experience.”

Pre-pandemic club boot up

Western Mechatronics is a non-profit, student-run robotics club in Calgary.  It is a home for students from Grade 1 to Grade 12 to learn robotics.

It was started in December 2019, right before the pandemic began.

Zhou said they immediately had to shift all of their ‘hands-on’ robotics to an online format.  

“Not a lot of fun. But you know, we solved it, we went through it, we survived,” he said.

The local robotics scene is growing fast, Zhou said. Still, it’s pretty small compared to many North American cities. Right now, Zhou estimated there are 50 Calgary robotics teams. He said it sounds pretty good until you see that BC has more than 400, Ontario 500 and some US states have thousands of teams.

“The main reason why we started the club was because when my younger brother went to high school, there wasn’t any robotics opportunity,” Zhou said.

“We wanted to provide people with a chance to build robots just like we did.”

The club has hosted other competitions, including provincial-level competitions. Nothing of this magnitude, Zhou said.

Evolution of robotics

Zhou said this isn’t like your mech wars robots; there’s a little more finesse to what they’re designing today. There is contact during the match, but the goal is not to destroy your opponent.

The robots are still built nearly from scratch. There are no instructions. Students design, build and even code how they want the machine to operate. They just get the parts to put it together.

Many of the robots have autonomous functions as well. That all has to be coded in by the students.

“It’s really impressive to see what these what these students have been able to do,” Zhou said.

Given the transition to a more mechanized world, fostering students who are mechanically inclined is important, said Zhou. A lot of his interest in robotics was developed when he was a kid.

“When you’re a kid, you see these cool machines and go ‘dang, I want to build some of those one day,’ and then to be able to provide that opportunity while they’re still at that age,” he said.

“It’s so important to continually train and then improve the way we think about the world.”

The event is free to attend at the BMO Centre in Halls C and D from Feb. 3 to 5.