By: Amy Z. (’19)
This spring, our Gryphon Robotics team made it to the FIRST Robotics national championships for the first time in Crystal history! Team captain Annabelle Tao ‘17 says that “We’ve always been a small team, but that scrappy mentality–‘we can do it although we might fail on the way’–has really helped us this year. That’s one of the best parts of our team. We’re student driven. This year especially, everyone had a hand in the process. Everyone was more engaged and had a greater say in the team.” To learn more about this momentous victory, we conducted an interview with team members Anika Kamath ‘18 and Jesus Picos ‘18.
When does robotics meet? How often?
A: We have a build season, which runs from January to mid-February. I think we do about 20 hours a week, but you’re not required to go to every meeting. We do 3 hours after school each day.
Three hours after school every day?!
A: Yeah, but not everyone goes every day, or for the whole time. You can come for two hours and leave. I’d say the average is about 8 hours a week.
That’s still really impressive. How many students are on the team?
J: I can pull it up right now.
That’s okay, don’t worry about it. An estimate?
A: Maybe 15?
Hey, that’s pretty solid. What’s your grade level distribution look like?
A: It’s pretty spread out, except we only had one senior this year. We’d always appreciate new members, but the small team’s kind of nice because you get to be really involved. You can do a lot of groundwork yourself; you get to tell people what to do. I enjoy being able to work by myself on mechanisms.
Makes sense. I love telling people what to do! So what does a normal robotics meeting look like? What are you guys up to?
J: Well, at the beginning of the season, we have…um.
J: Right, I just forgot what it was called. Basically the challenge is introduced, and we start brainstorming mech and thinking of robot types to tackle it.
Cool, cool. So tell us how your robotics competitions work.
J: There are two tournaments before you qualify for championship.
Are they all through the same organization?
J: Yeah. FIRST Robotics.
A: It’s an acronym for something. [For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, founded in 1989 “to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders,” today “the leading, not-for-profit STEM engagement program for kids worldwide,” according to their website, firstinspires.org.]
And how many teams compete?
A: I think the first tournament was about 40 teams and the second one maybe 60. The championship in Houston was 400 teams total, but broken up into six divisions. So we were up against 66 or 67 teams, about.
J: Ours was 67, I’m pretty sure.
That’s a lot of teams? How’re they determined? Geographically?
J: Nope, they’re completely random. Unfortunately, we were placed in the most competitive division, I think–
A: The most competitive division.
J: Yeah, so we placed about average, I’d say. The teams were really close in rankings, just a few points here and there.
A: And I did some calculations…if we had been placed in any of the other divisions, we would have gotten 20th or 30th place. Which is kind of sad.
No big deal–you guys set that world record, too! What was this year’s challenge, and how did you face it?
A: It’s called Steamworks. There were different challenges teams could choose to do. One was shooting wiffle balls. The other was transporting gears. We did a gear and defense bot, but we also went for extra points by having the robot climb a rope.
The same robot climbed the rope and moved the gears?
Wow. Individually, what are your roles as parts of the team?
J: I’m shop manager. So I deal with the shop stuff. I make sure people clean up after themselves. Sometimes I have to handle the freshmen. I’m also in charge of bumpers, which are the protection for our robot.
“Brainstorming is the best part of build season because you’re just spitballing ideas and guessing at what all the robots this year are going to be like. Half those guesses are right and the other half are completely off. It’s total freedom, just proving that something might work. No final product required.”
Bumpers? What are they made of? Do you use power tools?
J: Yeah. They’re made of wood, pool noodles, and fabric.
A: You know, at the tournament–
J: The top team said they wished they had our bumpers! I was just like–[*waves hands around excitedly*].
Oh my gosh, that’s hysterical. Congrats! Anika?
A: Well, I was just very involved with the mech that the robot used to climb the rope. My team and I spent a lot of time designing and building that. I also worked with our mentors to finalize design ideas and get tips on how to fabricate effectively.
Mentors? How do you find those? Are they linked to the Crystal community?
A: Well…mentors. No, they’re not related to Crystal. It’s actually…really hard.
J: Yeah, really hard.
A: It’s just lots of emailing and sometimes posting ads online. Specific team members can be really helpful in reaching out to potential mentors. I don’t know where they get the email information, though. Fortunately, our old mentor helped us find new mentors, too.
Hm, that’s convenient. Looking back, what do you think contributed to your success this year?
A: This year we just really worked as a team. Last year, we attempted…well, we were a little fractured. Some people didn’t do anything, and other people were doing all the work. And the year before, a lot of people would show up, but not many people actually did the grunt work. This year it’s a lot more even.
Ah, so you’ve just really meshed. That’s great to hear. Looking forward to future success, what’s your favorite part of being on the robotics team? Anything to say to students looking to join?
A: All of my life is spent at robotics.
J: We do spend a lot of time on robotics.
A: And it’s more than just robots–we’re more than just robots! It’s the whole community of FRC [FIRST Robotics Competition], not just robotics. I have a lot of friends in robotics. It’s a great place to make friends…it’s just a loving, fun community!
J: You should join if you want to learn about coding or any sort of engineering. This year we even received a donated drone and watched a presentation about drone tech! But there’s also just a great support network here.
A: I think we’re involved more than we’ve been in other years. Everyone on the team is super helpful.
J: And if you come in and you don’t know anything–
A: Everyone’s willing to help you, because we’ve all been there!