Benilde-St. Margaret's students to compete in college robotics competition in Australia

There’s a small laboratory in St. Louis Park where a group of young engineers are trying to save the world from disasters.

They are building a robot to help first responders search for victims inside a collapsed building. Will Driessen and his team have worked on the robot for nearly a year, and the payoff will hopefully come in just a few weeks.

“I couldn’t be more excited because we’re actually going on a trip to Sydney, Australia, to compete against colleges and other professional businesses. We’re the only high schoolers there,” he said.

The Benilde-St. Margaret’s team is building a specific robot to crawl into a disaster scene and search for victims.

They know from past competitions that it is not easy.

“We also need camera arrays to be seeded in the robot,” Driessen said. “When we’re at the competition, we’re actually not allowed to see the robot. We’re only allowed to see through it with its eyes and the cameras that it’s using.

The robot is about a lot more than having the robot rescue victims at a disaster scene.  It’s also about it recognizing hazards such as dangerous chemicals. So far, the team has programed nearly 200 chemicals into the robot’s software.

“So, it’s looking at an image of the corrosive label and, you can see it draws a box around where it sees the corrosive label is and it’s 98 percent sure that it is corrosive,” said Oriana Sampson, another BSM Robotics team member.

Even if the team does not win the competition, one of their teachers knows they’ve won something else.

“How the robot performs at the competition will be great,” said Anne Dougherty, BSM’s engineering teacher. “But really, the experiences the kids will take away with them is learning how to collaborate, learning how to persevere, learning that they really have the authentic tools to solve real problems.”

The team will learn those lessons by engineering success, one failure at a time.

“I come in here every day and I’m just excited to work,” said Driessen. “It’s one thing that just kind of gets me out of bed in the morning.”

The competition in Sydney starts in the beginning of July. Several of the students also competed in a similar robotics competition last summer in Montreal.