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Robotics and Collaboration: A Symbiotic Relationship

By Seung Jae (Ryan) Lee, V Form

Fish4At our Gray Colloquium Day on March 27th, we were fortunate to have Don Bossi, president of FIRST Robotics, as our morning keynote speaker. FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, seeks to inspire young students to take an interest in robotics and encourages collaboration and cooperation. St. Mark’s has developed an intricate and intimate relationship with FIRST over the last four years. Thanks to the generous support from the school, the St. Mark’s Robotics Team with the team name Gone Fishin’ and a team number 3566 has finished its fourth season. Every year, the robotics team competes in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), which is an international event. FRC, designated for high school students, helps students interested in robotics and promotes students to cooperate with fellow students and adults.

Each year, the game is announced at the kickoff event. Then, each team has six weeks to build a robot to participate in the game. The game changes every year, so each team member has to devote their time during the six-week-long build season. After six weeks, the robot is bagged, and the team cannot work on the robot anymore. Then, the district events are held, in which approximately forty teams gather for a three-versus-three competition to choose who advances to the district championship event.

This year’s game, named Aerial Assist, is a game using a two feet diameter ball. The main goal of the game is to score by putting the ball into the goal. However, the number of points awarded for the goal is dependent on the number of robots that took part in making the goal. For example, if one robot possesses a ball and directly shoots it to a high goal, it gets 10 points. However, if the robot passes the ball to another robot and that robot makes it into the high goal, the alliance gets 20 points. Therefore, the game requires not only a well-developed robot, but also communication between the three teams in the alliance.

This year, the kickoff date was just a few days before the winter break ended. Therefore, when we came back to school after winter break, we had to start building the robot as soon as possible. To hasten the process, the team met for a Choate House sleepover before the first day of school. In the Choate House, we made sure that every member fully understood the competition and its rules, and we developed what the team should focus on. That day mainly served as a brainstorming night, and each member created his or her own design of what the robot could look like.

Then, during the first few weeks of the building season, the team met continuously to develop and find the optimal design for the robot. The team agreed that the robot should be able to pick up the ball and shoot the ball into the goal. Numerous ideas for shooting existed, such as a catapult or a kicker. We had to choose one idea and then design the mechanics of the robot. Also, the pickup mechanism named ‘El Toro’ required careful planning, as the FRC rule book contained specific rules related to the size of the robot. After weeks of discussion, the team decided that a catapult was a valid method for this game, since the reload speed did not matter and it had higher accuracy than a kicker. The pickup mechanism was inspired by a team competing in a different competition named ‘Robot in 3 Days.’ However, even though the idea was public, the mechanism itself was not given by the team, so the pickup mechanism still required countless designs and trials. The final design of the robot was a collaborative result of the entire team’s effort.

Fish1   Fish2

 

(Above Left): St. Markers are working on the robot in the competition. In the competition, each team is given a ‘pit,’ which is 8 to 10 feet wide and 8 to 10 feet long.

(Above Right): The robot without the ‘El Toro’ pickup mechanism.

(Below Left): The robot with the ‘El Toro’ pickup mechanism.

(Below Right): The robot with the ball mounted.

Fish3  Fish4

The experience of participating in the robotics team has been valuable in many ways. Because building a robot is both time-consuming and difficult, it is crucial that each team member flexibly collaborates with other members and adults. Although the team is divided into the software sector, the electronics sector, and the building sector, each sector communicates and cooperates with each other to manage priorities and maintain efficiency. Personally, the ‘scrum’ meetings we held at the end of each day helped me feel that I was a part of a team. During scrum, the team discussed what each member did that day and figured out how the team as a whole was progressing. These scrums gave our team a cooperative environment, as any member could ask for help during each meeting.

Furthermore, robotics has offered me the opportunity to develop various new skills as an engineer and as a programmer. When I first joined the team, I was afraid of using even the basic power tools such as the hand drill. I thought that I would only work on the software and stay as a programmer. However, as the sectors cooperated, I had to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. I started with salvaging the materials from the old robot and went on the building parts of the robot for the competition. Now, I can confidently use many heavy-duty tools that I had never seen before joining the team.

As a member of the robotics team, I had a valuable experience of reaching out to the community beyond the team. In the Gray Colloquium Day, we managed a workshop to share the excitement. Furthermore, we contributed to the local community by displaying our robot to younger kids and their parents. We were able to visit a kindergarten and a library to talk about the experience we had. It was a great experience to promote robotics, something I enjoyed, to younger kids who might also enjoy it. I believe that the robotics team was able to show me how young students can make a difference in the community.

Joining the robotics team has given me valuable experience that I could not have gotten otherwise. I was able to learn various engineering skills that I hoped to learn, such as 3D designing, while I collaborated with other students and adults passionate about the fields of STEM–in fact, this evinces how robotics and collaboration represent a symbiotic relationship.  For one to be successful in the STEM fields, the skill of collaborating is an essential and inherent part of the process. Being part of the robotics club was a very exciting and motivating experience. I hope to participate in the robotics team next year to take full advantage of the valuable resource the school offers and encourage other students to join the team.

Seung Jae (Ryan) Lee is a V Former from Seoul, Korea, and he lives in Sawyer House. He is passionate about math and computer science, and he often writes a post in his blog on math and computer science.

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