Robotics, just like any other sport or activity, is based on the idea of improvement—more so than many other activities. Building a complex and intricate machine and finding flaws in the basic structure can be an infuriating but important process.
Imagine screwing in screws, nuts, and bolts, often for up to fifteen hours a week, just to go to a competition for it to fall apart tragically. Rebuilding is at the core of the robotics process. Learning from your mistakes and from others’ successes may seem tedious, but it builds skills engineers will need for the rest of their lives.
Currently, team 169A, the most experienced team in the school’s shop, is preparing to set foot on the biggest stage of robotics in the world, the Worlds Competition in Texas. As they prepare to finish their season, 169A’s members work towards improving their robot to match the level of competition they will meet.
Sixth Former Megh Tank feels that the season has presented a long process of failure and learning, all leading to this moment.
“I think we did really well adapting to what the season threw at us, reiterating designs and changing concepts like new designs and new code. Some difficulties this year though were that our start was really slow, teams [in the Haverford shop] were a little different this year, and getting that team bonding experience,” Tank said. “Coming back from last year’s upsetting season and not doing as well as we wanted to, and trying to pick up the pace this year, we started out kind of slow and faced a lot of difficulties.”
Tank, renowned in the shop as an experienced builder and pneumatics expert, can attest to the difficulties the whole team faced this season, in terms of this year’s game.
Vex Robotics has a long-lasting tradition of creating unique games for each season, a factor that keeps young robotics enthusiasts on their toes.
This year, the game, called Spin Up, involves many individual working parts and functions that came together to build a very complex robot. The game allows drivers to score points by either shooting discs into a goal resembling that of a frisbee golf goal, turning cylinders to their team’s color, and shooting string across the field tiles in the finale of the game to rack up even more points.
These factors, coupled with the many limitations VEX details in its rulebook, such as a maximum of eight motors and some size restraints, created tough competition, especially for newer members.
Many of the robotics team members were inexperienced this year. They used guidance from the club’s Sixth Formers to learn and adapt, skills they will utilize throughout their robotics careers.
Fourth Former Elliot Lee, a new but skilled member of the club, thinks the team can improve in a number of areas.
“We could have managed our time better and set more realistic goals, especially for our competitions like [the one in] Wisconsin, where we made an extremely ambitious rebuild, which didn’t exactly work out,” Lee said.
Going into the next season, Lee hopes to learn from this season. Not many high school students learn to set specific and achievable goals within accurate time frames, but those who do get a head start on the next season.
Lee said, “Next year we want to win States.”
Instead of aiming straight for Worlds, the highest and most prestigious level of Vex Robotics, the team will look to solidify their position in their region.
As their season comes to an end, the Sixth Form members of the club look to finish well. The World Championship competition takes place from April 25-May 4 in Dallas, Texas. The event will be webcast online.
Conor McDonald, another Fourth Former, said, “We are rebuilding our intake and catapult, which are the two main systems of the robot, and we are building this new bot with red and medical gray anodized aluminum.”
Even though McDonald and Lee are the youngest students on the 169A robotics team, they have learned the difficult skills of revising, taking steps back to make forward progress, and adapting to the slow but rewarding process.