Move over Transformers – the coolest robots are being made in Antigonish.
Much like a motto of the global phenomenon – there is ‘more than meets the eye,’ when it comes to OllieBots.
“We were looking for something we could do – away from sports – which we could have some fun with,” Bryan Smith said of the creations.
The ‘we,’ at least initially, was Smith and his son, Oliver, who is the ‘Ollie’ in OllieBots.
“They thought they were really cool,” Oliver, 10, said of buddies who received the first wooden robots.
It starts with six blocks, which become the head, body, arms and legs. And, fittingly, considering their passion for hockey, those pieces are connected with skate laces.
Googly eyes and a decal over the heart – Toronto Maple Leafs’ stickers for the first two, Oliver’s favourite team – and so began OllieBots.
From there, they decided to make OllieBots a fundraiser for Ewing Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, which Oliver was diagnosed with in February.
“That’s where we thought we needed to put our energy,” mother Shauna Grant-Smith said.
Proceeds from sales – $20 apiece – will go towards the ‘fight’ against Ewing Sarcoma, which she noted is “unrecognized,” in terms of funding and research. There will also be monies available for families facing health issues with their children.
“It has been a true team effort,” Smith said of those who have helped.
There are the teams, such as the X-Men and X-Women, along with the Antigonish Farmers’ Mutual Junior Bulldogs, who have donated skate laces.
“Some have been, kind of, smelly,” Grant-Smith said, with a laugh, but nothing that time in the washer couldn’t remedy.
There have been wood scraps from building supplies stores and other sources; much of which has been cut by Smith’s friend, Mike MacDonald, and his technical arts students at SAERC in Port Hawkesbury.
Stickers have come from businesses – not to mention NHL teams, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks.
Oliver’s uncle, Brad, a graphic designer, made a logo.
“Everything is friends and family,” Smith said, in paralleling the backing for OllieBots with the unwavering support they have received during Oliver’s illness.
“With this, and everything else, we can never thank people enough for their support,” he added.
With orders rolling in, the family’s Friday pizza and movie night has added a factory floor, of sorts, with Oliver and his parents, along with older sisters – Emma and Megan – assembling the robots.
The selection of stickers for each can be made by the purchaser. While most requests are for hockey logos, there have been others, including ones related to Highland dancing.
Some of the first OllieBots are well-travelled, with one making its way to Calgary with Oliver’s cousin, Elisabeth, who played with the Subway Selects Pee Wee ‘AA’ in the ‘Wick Fest’ hockey tournament.
That OllieBot stayed in Alberta, where it has found a home on the desk of Canadian legend Hayley Wickenheiser, whose name graces the annual celebration.
They also plan to send one to Don Cherry.
When he is not putting together the robots, Oliver is scoring and setting up goals – like his favourite player Mitch Marner, with the Antigonish Atom ‘AA’ Bulldogs.
“I love getting out on the ice with my friends and working hard,” he said.
Doctors recently said the Grade 5 student at Saint Andrew Junior School can return “to being a kid,” which includes not only lacing up the blades, but also full participation in his favourite class – physical education.
That early Christmas present came along after a long road for the family, including eight months of chemotherapy, along with double-digit radiation treatments on both his leg and lungs.
He must continue having check-ups every three months.
As for the final touch – without a doubt the most personal – and one that makes OllieBots ‘more than meets the eye,’ is Oliver’s signature, of sorts, a small heart nestled inside a capital ‘O’.
On each wooden robot, that moniker is in the general area where a person’s left hip would be – the spot where doctors found Oliver’s cancer.
“He is our inspiration,” Grant-Smith said.
Visit the fundraiser’s Facebook page – Facebook.com/olliebots – and for more information, including how to purchase an Ollie Bot, email [email protected]