This is one robot that can do more than fetch your newspaper.
Two students from John Polanyi Collegiate Institute won first place in the 2012 MedTech Challenge, which required them to build a robot capable of drilling through a human skull — or at least an acrylic model of one.
Ben Mazor and Sebastian Mazzuca managed to build the robot — tentatively named “Awesome” — with only three motors instead of the maximum of eight.
Out of Lego.
“Our group completely scratched the instructions, put them aside and built from scratch,” said grade 12 student Mazor. “Only us and one other group created a design not following the schematics.”
That’s part of the reason they were selected among the 12 Toronto District School Board students that took part in the challenge, says Flahat.
“They wanted to look for the solutions that were not so easy, because that’s where the innovation is,” said their principal Aiman Flahat who had encouraged them to enter the competition.
“I was really proud of them when they mentioned how they had an opportunity to choose the easy one but they wanted to choose a path that made a difference … because that’s really what we’re all about,” Flahat added.
The contest consisted of a workshop running over the course of five weeks at Sick Kids Hospital, one of the contest’s sponsors.
Students used Lego Mindstorm kits, which are specifically made for building robots, to design and develop a robot that can remove a tumour from a child’s brain.
A daunting task to be sure, but one that grade 9 student Mazzuca embraced wholeheartedly.
“Not everyone gets to go to Sick Kids and build a robot that will perform on kids,” he said. “But of course winning is really nice.”
Mazzuca said he joined the contest due to his own experience at Sick Kids Hospital. While still an infant, he experienced a negative reaction to an immunization that threatened his life.
“I basically lived in Sick Kids — I stopped eating, drinking, I was on the verge of death,” Mazzuca said. “Science like this saved me…. So I wanted to contribute something to give back so people don’t have to experience that.”
Mazor also grew interested in robotics because he sees it as a field where he can contribute to society. Or in his words: “Look what I can do.”
“It’s one of those fields that can be a little bit tedious, but when you actually start to explore it, you can find all sorts of possibilities that can help people quite a bit.”
Recently the students have completed a new robot that compresses plastic bottles. It’s for a July contest held by the Centre for Surgical Invention and Innovation.
Both Mazor and Mazzuca said they hope to pursue engineering in post-secondary school.
The contest prompted Mazor to question why robotic devices such as a mechanical arm are so expensive. He pointed out the robot his team created could theoretically be built with materials as rudimentary as Popsicle sticks.
“It’s so simple to do, but when you need a false arm, it’s really expensive,” he said. “It now becomes quite shocking, and you really have to ask yourself why it’s so expensive.”
He believes as the technology becomes cheaper and more accessible, it won’t be long before it’s common to have robots chopping your carrots, fetching your paper and drilling into your skull to remove a tumour.
“One of the problems with robotics is that people say it makes you lazy,” Mazor said. “But when you start to interact with robotics, it’s not ‘Can you make me dinner?’ It’s ‘Can we interact and make dinner together?’
“That’s where I see robotics going.”