Yorkton university student travels to Abu Dhabi for world robotics competition

A pre-nursing student might seem out of place at a world competition in the field of mobile robotics. But when your last name is Chiasson, robotics runs in the family.

Brock Chiasson is just beginning his first year of Arts and Science classes at Parkland College in Yorkton. This week, however, he is representing Canada at the WorldSkills competition in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

WorldSkills is the globe’s largest vocational skills competition, welcoming almost 1,300 young people from 77 member countries and regions. There are 51 skill competitions covering everything from aircraft maintenance to hairdressing to welding.

While Chiasson is new to post-secondary education, his training in robotics is extensive. He is following in the footsteps of his father, Kevin, and his older brother, Bo.

“They have both travelled the world for skills competitions and have achieved much success, so I was eager to get involved,” Chiasson says. “Their success struck me and made me want to become involved in this activity and compete.”

Before graduating from Yorkton Regional High School, Chiasson and his teammates conquered domestic competitions, twice winning gold at the Skills Canada national competition. The global competition is the pinnacle for Chiasson and teammate Sean Furber, who studies at the University of Saskatchewan.

Sean Furber and teammate Brock Chiasson (right) are competing at the WorldSkills Competition in Abu Dhabi Oct. 15-18. (Courtesy of YRHS World Robotics Team Facebook page)

“Our expert is my dad, and my older brother is the trainer,” Chiasson notes. “They’ve helped us along the whole time, just teaching us to improve our skills with teamwork, focusing on our own task, sticking to our strengths. They’ve helped us a lot with that kind of thing. It’s very encouraging, since they’ve already been through this.”

Each weekend this fall, Furber has driven to Yorkton from Saskatoon so he and Chiasson can train for the weekend. Chiasson estimates they spent 16 hours every Saturday honing their skills and working on their robot.

“It’s nerve-racking because Sean is kind of swamped [with coursework] right now. But I’ve had a lot of time to work on the robot. Hopefully it pays off in the end. I’m nervous for the competition because it’s the end-all for robotics.”

Chiasson says the WorldSkills mobile robotics competition is particularly challenging. He describes the contest unfolding in a playground environment, with a reception area as the starting point. In this scenario, a parent comes to the reception area and asks the robot – which is based on a real-life robot that will be deployed in Dubai – to retrieve their child from the playground. This task must be carried out three different ways: with competitors piloting the robot; piloting the robot without a direct line of sight; and autonomously/programmed.

“It’s kind of out of the blue that a robotics student is going into health care,” Chiasson admits. “But there’s more and more robotics being applied in health care and medicine, so hopefully I’ll get involved in some of that. I’d like to see if there are any advances that I could work on.”

At the conclusion of the 2017-18 academic year, he intends to enter the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Nursing. From there, he will complete his Bachelor of Science degree in Saskatoon. But the family connections convinced him to begin his post-secondary studies at Parkland College.

“Everyone was moving around. My younger brother’s at the Regional this year, he’s finishing up. I thought I’d stick around, cut down the cost of living a little bit.”

And being able to prepare for a global robotics competition is a nice advantage, too.

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