Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Quanser Hosts Two FIRST Robotics High School Teams To Help Them Envision Engineering Careers

What in the world could make twenty Markham, Ontario high school students get up at the crack of dawn and attend an off-campus event before starting a full day of classes? How about the chance to control unmanned vehicles, network with Quanser engineers—and get a closeup view of what a 21st century engineering career can look like?

The students from St. Robert Catholic High School and St. Brother André Catholic High School were here at our invitation because they had entered the upcoming 2012 FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), with Quanser sponsoring and mentoring the St. Robert team.

Students, teachers and Quanser engineers meet and mingle to get the day underway.

The day began with an informal get acquainted session and light breakfast for the students, teachers and Quanser staff. After official greetings from Tom Lee, Quanser’s Chief Education Officer, everyone moved over to a presentation area where Tom gave an illustrated talk titled, “What Is Engineering?” In just a few minutes, he explained how broad, individualized and varied an engineering career could be.

Tom Lee, Quanser's Chief Education Officer, delivers a motivational presentation titled 'What Is Engineering?"

The next speaker was Mark Breadner, Executive Director of FIRST Canada, which will host the 2012 Robotics Competition. Mark spoke about the exciting learning possibilities that the students would experience once the competition was underway, and of how today’s experience at Quanser would help the students prepare for it.

Mark Breadner, Executive Director of FIRST Canada, explains how enjoyable and involving the upcoming FIRST Robotics Competition will be for the St. Robert and St. Brother Andre teams.
The students formed into three groups: “Captivate”, “Motivate” and “Educate”, named after the three key benefits of Quanser products and solutions, and headed over to the demonstration areas to get their hands on the robotic equipment. The demo stations featured the Quanser Driving Simulator, designed to teach undergraduate students control fundamentals; the HD^2 haptic device, which introduced students to a robotic tool that incorporates the sense of touch; and an unmanned ground vehicle that could autonomously navigate, detect and collect specified objects.

Each demo area was manned by a Quanser engineer who introduced the students to the equipment, described its functions and real-world applications, then put it through its paces. After that, the students were given the opportunity to control the equipment for themselves.

A future engineer tries her hand at the Quanser Driving Simulator.

It takes a moment to get used to the touch and feel of the HD^2 haptic device.
A student takes the controls of the Quanser Unmanned Ground Vehicle.

Once every group had experienced all three demo areas, everyone reconvened in the presentation area for a lively Q&A session with an all-star panel - Quanser engineers and managers who specialize in robotics and mechatronics, software development, non-linear control, engineering management, educational materials for engineering programs, as well as business roles such as marketing management. Each panelist explained his or her role at Quanser, how they came to be engineers, and what appealed to them about working for a technology company.
Quanser engineers and management staff answer questions about pursuing engineering careers.

Students wanted to learn all they could about the engineering possibilities that await them.

How did it all go over? As one student put it, “It’s interesting to visit Quanser because this is where the actual engineering and innovation gets done. It’s definitely an advantage for us to experience an engineering company first hand.”

St. Robert Principal Jennifer Sarna summed up the day as well. “We were thrilled to come to a real engineering facility, to see what it’s like to be a real engineer and to have the classroom come to life. Our students are very lucky to work with the engineers from Quanser as they prepare for the FIRST Robotics competition next March.”

Everyone at Quanser is looking forward to working closely with the St. Robert team as they prepare for the FIRST Robotics Competition starting in January 2012. Stay tuned for posts in the coming months from Quanser mentors as they detail the St. Robert students’ progress.

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