Engineering science graduand Gordon Ho, founder of SFU’s VEX Robotics Club and longboarding pro, in Myra Canyon, Kelowna. Ho plans to explore more of B.C. this summer, before embarking on a career in mechanical engineering.

Robotics whiz, entrepreneur wins on world stage

June 05, 2017

Gordon Ho has an inventor’s mind: When he sees a problem, he tries to imagine a solution. So when the engineering science graduand noticed the absence of a robotics club at SFU’s Burnaby campus—he started one himself.

Founded by Ho in 2013, SFU’s VEX Robotics Club has grown from humble roots as a one-person operation with a single demonstration robot to a world-ranked university robotics team with more than 100 members.

For three years in a row, a team of four VEX Robotics Club team members, including Ho, has topped the Western Engineering Competition senior design category, competing with dozens of teams from universities across Western Canada.

The team also placed fourth out of 60 teams in the 2014 VEX Robotics World Championship’s programming challenge.

“To make any successful team, you need passionate and motivated team members,” says Ho, who is also the club’s team captain and leader of SFU’s robotics summer camp for kids.

Ho’s infectious enthusiasm for robotics stems from a lifelong fascination with all things mechanical.

As a child, he recalls taking apart clocks and radios and making Rube Goldberg machines from household items. By Grade 9, he was building his own VEX robots, after a teacher introduced him to the integrated robotics system.

“The awesome thing about robotics is that you can go make it, test your own ideas, and if it doesn’t work, you can go back and try again—it’s an iterative process of your own creation,” says Ho.

When he’s not making robots or studying, Ho can be found indulging his other passion: longboarding, a sport similar to skateboarding which he likens to “riding a magic carpet.”

In 2015, he turned his hobby into a successful business venture, launching a company called Grip Graphique, which produces custom-cut griptape for longboards and skateboards.

Manufactured by Ho in his garage using a laser cutter, Grip Graphique raised more than $5,000 in a Kickstarter campaign last year and is currently stocked by three retails stores in Canada, and one in California.

Aside from managing his burgeoning business, Ho plans to take some time off to travel before looking for a job in mechanical engineering. But nevertheless, new ideas are percolating. He recently ordered “a whole lot of robotic parts” to dabble with over the summer, and is currently working with a friend to develop a smart device to prevent stove fires.