Waterloo amazes on The Amazing Race Canada

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

In progress shot from The Amazing Race Canada.

You might have noticed something familiar while flipping through the channels earlier this week.

For the first time ever, the University of Waterloo appeared as a Pit Stop on this season of CTV’s The Amazing Race Canada.

In traditional Waterloo fashion, innovative projects and head-scratching challenges designed by students were showcased on Canada’s most-watched summer series.

As part of The Race, competitors Trish and Amy participated in a Speed Bump challenge, in which they got the chance to experience one of Waterloo’s student-designed autonomous vehicles first-hand. With the push of a button, the self-driving WATonomous Chevrolet Bolt EV took competitors on a hands-free ride around campus.

WATonomous

Competitors Trish and Amy speak to WATonomous Team Captain Rowan Dempster before taking a hands-free ride around campus.

“Everybody knows The Amazing Race Canada, so there was a lot of genuine interest from the WATonomous student competition team members to be part of this fun event,” says Ross McKenzie, managing director of the Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research (WatCAR). “It’s one thing to program a car to drive in an s-pattern around five pylons, but the team wanted to create an experience that would give a couple of contestants from The Amazing Race Canada a glimpse into the future of mobility.”

On-the-ground technical support was provided by fourth-year computer science student and WATonomous Team Captain Rowan Dempster. Having recently returned from his co-op at Facebook in California, the 22-year-old helped design and program the path of the autonomous vehicle. As a precautionary measure, he also remained inside the car, witnessing Trish and Amy’s reactions as it sprang to life.

“The initial acceleration [of the autonomous vehicle] can feel a bit weird and non-human, so [Trish and Amy] said the classic ‘oh!’ when it started moving,” chuckles Dempster. “But being involved in The Amazing Race Canada was a great way for us to share our team’s vision and mission—it was a really good experience.”

Rowan Dempster

Fourth-year computer science student Rowan Dempster.

Just down the road, first-year systems design engineering student Jeffrey Dugan was anxiously waiting for teams to burst through the doors of Engineering 7. The 19-year-old had unknowingly been part of The Amazing Race Canada challenge-design process during his co-op with Waterloo’s Engineering Ideas Clinic.

His concept, which saw teams navigate a robot through a complex maze from Waterloo’s state-of-the-art robotics facility RoboHub, was ultimately selected by The Amazing Race Canada producers.

“Everything was very secretive, even when we were proposing different challenge ideas, I had no idea what it was for,” says Dugan. “When I found out, I started freaking out a bit. I’m a huge fan of The Amazing Race Canada and I’ve watched all of the previous seasons, so just to be part of something like this was really quite incredible.”

Dugan’s challenge tested team communication skills to the fullest, with one teammate at the controls of a walking robot and the other one floor above navigating their partner, via walkie-talkie, at the side of an approximately 30 x 30-foot maze.

“It was a spectacle, I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Dugan.

Jeffrey Dugan

First-year systems design engineering student Jeffrey Dugan.

Dugan’s now hoping one of his future co-op terms might be with the series, assisting with technical set-up and design as he did for this episode. He also aspires to one day possibly compete on The Amazing Race Canada himself.

“I’m super grateful that I got this opportunity to be a part of this,” says Dugan “If you can’t participate in the actual Race, designing a challenge for the series is definitely the next best thing.”

Maze

Birds-eye view of the "Robot Quest" maze challenge designed by Dugan and Waterloo’s Engineering Ideas Clinic team.

Waterloo’s episode of The Amazing Race Canada aired last night and the episode is available on CTV.ca and the CTV app. New episodes air Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV. This was the first time the series featured Kitchener-Waterloo and the University of Waterloo.

This article originally appeared on Waterloo Stories.