ESTEVAN — The Southeast Techhub in Estevan has announced a partnership with the Estevan Comprehensive School and Revelation Engineering for the creation of Estevan Robotics.
This new venture will provide students and staff with an opportunity to increase skills in science, technology, engineering and math.
The ultimate goal of Estevan Robotics will be to create Estevan's own bipedal robot, an ambitious feat that will be worked up to through the students' creation of a number of smaller robotics projects.
The Estevan Comprehensive School said it is very excited to join forces with the Southeast Techhub and looks forward to applying new skills in classes, such as computer sciences, machining, entrepreneurship, mechanical and automotive, and drafting and computer-aided design, just to name a few.
Gord More, executive director of the Estevan Techhub, said the idea for the project was born last December when he was talking to Boston Dynamics, an American engineering and robotics design company founded in 1992 as a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, trying to build a connection for Southeast Techhub.
"I think robotics is an important thing to understand and know in the community," More said.
While working on the idea, More came across Revelation Engineering, a local full-service oilfield and electrical engineering company owned by Alan Nixon.
"I was looking for someone within the community that had engineering experience and was willing to help us out because a robot is a lot of work," More recalled. "I met Alan [Nixon] at a chamber Coffee Talk and presented the idea to him. And he's been very energetic and keen to really help. He's a leader in this whole project."
Nixon assisted the Techhub in finding open-source project files for the bipedal robot and he also developed the design of a jousting robot.
"A jousting robot would be a robot riding a horse, and he has a lamp, and he has a button on his shoulder. And the idea is that kids will have a jousting competition with their robots, and try to knock the other one off. So Alan created the design in CAD [computed-aided design] for us, which has now been given to the Comp. drafting teacher Tara [Johns] for the kids to create," More explained.
A bipedal robot is a humanoid robot that has legs and feet rather than running on wheels or tracks. There is a list of projects, and the Estevan Robotics group is to start learning more about bipedal robots by building different projects. More added that he also found a couple of great helpers.
"A Ukrainian family just moved to Estevan about three weeks ago," More said early March. "Anastasia has completed an undergraduate in robotics and aeronautics. So, I have hired her … to help us with the robot. Her brother, Edward, has a computer science background and he can program in Python, the language that's one of the best languages for robots.
"Anastasia and Edward are going to start in a few weeks and are going to build a little robot dog using a Raspberry Pi computer. And from there, we'll start to learn more, we'll gain the experience and understanding and knowledge of how to build this bipedal robot," More said.
He added the goal of the project is not only to help students learn about robots but to also potentially advance and assist local businesses, and also create further development opportunities in the southeast.
"I don't want to just build something and say that's a nice toy. I want this to actually help create additional new jobs in Estevan. I don't want to just create new skills. And for that to succeed, I'm going to work with entrepreneurial class kids at the Comp. and with Anastasia, and we're going to go out into the community and ask local businesses and industries, when they envision a robot, what kind of pain point can the robot resolve for them … And then what we will do is as we work through the different iterations of this robot, we will bring those features to the robot so we can accomplish those tasks. So, we can actually become something that creates jobs and employment in Estevan."
Estevan Robotics will serve two missions of the Southeast Techhub.
"One is to create new additional jobs, opportunities and companies in Estevan. But the second part is to advocate for education, so that we can have the skills that are needed for computer science, for robotics, for artificial intelligence, for all these things that are coming into our community from outside, so that by educating we can become the disruptors instead of a disrupted," More said.
Southeast Techhub has several projects underway to bring innovation and technology to southeast Saskatchewan. Dr. Eric Grimson of MIT opened their Innovation Conversation series last Thursday. An Estevan Drone Racing Club is now operational as well. More is also working on a competition, where people will be able to pitch an innovative, technology-based idea and the winner would get seed money and space to start their actual company. And more projects are coming.