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Robotics competition comes to Western

One of the robots showcased at the festival, Friday, May 29, in the Communications Facility.
Robots and Western students filled the halls the Communications Facility as a part of the Northwest Robot Festival.   The competition on Friday, May 29, was a chance for students and robot fans alike to discover the opportunities and even jobs available in the world of robotics.   Around 40 students, from Western and Sehome High School, were expected to showcase their robots, Zhang said, but the attendance at the Festival alone was well over 50 people. The audience was spread out between the robot exhibitions.   The exhibitions included mobile app demonstrations, high school robot exhibitions including Sehome High School’s award winning robot, a police bomb defusing demonstration, sumo robot competitions and more.   Jianna Zhang, a computer science professor at Western, has been organizing the competition every year since 2003. This year, she made an effort to connect Western with the robotics community at large through the competition instead of focusing on just the academic part of the robotics community, Zhang said in an email.   One of the associations that helped organize the festival was the Bellingham Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Society, also known as BAIRS. This organization was created in 2004 to help inventors from around Whatcom County showcase their products.   Natasa Lazetic, a graduate student in robotics from Western and co-founder of BAIRS, saw the organization as a way to connect students from Western to the larger robotics community in Bellingham.   “[BAIRS] has been connected with Western by hosting meetings and using equipment there,” Lazetic said.   Lazetic participated in past Western robot competitions herself.   “One year I won first place at a Western student competition,” Lazetic said “I think it has given me confidence and even more excitement about robotics.”   Zhang teaches robotics classes at Western and aims to get students involved by showcasing their inventions in the festival, Zhang said.   One of the people demonstrating their robots was Edward Ponce, a junior at Sehome High School. He discovered robotics at Sehome High in his sophomore year, as Sehome offers robotics classes from freshman year to senior year.   “I was in shop and I accidentally walked into a robotics meeting and thought ‘Hey, this is cool’,” Ponce said.   This festival was not only a way for Ponce to showcase his robot but connect with people in robotics and potentially find a school, Ponce said.   “There are about a million scholarships for first robotics,” Ponce said. “This competition is the first robotics one, as it provides opportunities to high school students to be a part of the robotics world.”   More and more people arrived at the festival after the original wave of people as the robots started coming out of the boxes. Many children attended, and most were watching the sumo robot fight at the entrance of the Communications building.   A middle school had been challenged to a sumo robot fight and his students cheered for him as he took on a Western students’ robot. The excitement of the fight attracted even more people to come look inside the communications building.   The hallway was dedicated to the robot exhibitions put on by students and the public. The rest of the entrance was set up for Western students to demonstrate the apps and robots they had been working on all year.   Many people at this competition participated to showcase their inventions and potentially win awards or scholarships. BAIRS will be organizing the next Festival again and providing these awards to students, Zhang said.   Until then, robotics fans may participate in the BAIRS program by attending one of their meetings that takes place every third Sunday of the month.

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