The gears turn and the contraptions screech, signifying the start of build season, a time for which Gunn Robotics Team (GRT) members means staying at school until 9 p.m. every day. Although saddened by the loss of many crucial seniors, the team has welcomed many new sophomores. The veterans hope that these new talents will be able to help them improve their performance in the upcoming competitions.
“We are a little bit anxious about this season,” junior Samir Ghosh said. “However, we are still motivated as ever and are putting our full effort into being the best robotics team in the country.”
The goal this year is to build a frisbee shooter that shoots a frisbee 50 feet, approximately the length from the GRT room to Spangenberg Theater. In a typical day, GRT members show up at around 4 p.m. and grab a quick afternoon snack. Afterwards, the members quickly go to their individual stations. The team splits up the computer programming and the manual labor of building parts. “We all stay until nine in the evening every day, and although we are very tired, we really want to get the job done,” junior Ray Chen said.
There are about 54 people in GRT. As a result, the team faces a variety of challenges. “One problem is that it is hard to get everyone together because everyone is busy,” Chen said. “However, we still need full cooperation because every member does a unique job and only by having everyone complete their part can we make the full machine.”
New mentor Kristina Granlund-Moyer has a background as a software engineer. “Although we don’t have advice of 16-year-veteran [former mentor] Bill Dunbar, Kristina is an integral part of our team by contributing her own advice and offering mental support for us,” senior Harrison Waschura said.
Being in GRT is, for many, a reward in itself. “My favorite part is seeing all the different members, each with different skills come together and create one masterpiece that displays an equal contribution of all our talents,” Ghosh said.
Overall, working for the robotics team is a unique experience that many savor and will want to remember, even past their high school years. “The hardest part is knowing that later on in life, we will never have another opportunity to experience something like GRT again, the ability to have a self-run and self-motivated robotics team that is in a great environment,” junior Trevor Nielson said.
Each spring, the debut of brightly colored hair reminds the school’s population of the upcoming robotics season. While Gunn boasts its own crimson-haired team, in the past few years, blue dye has also been seen throughout campus. Its members belong to a Bay Area all-girls team called the Space Cookies.
From January through late April, the Space Cookies are busy designing, building and competing robots in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition.
Senior Sarah Schlossberg considers this year’s competition to be one of the hardest ever due to the assigned challenge at hand. “We are responsible for designing a robot that shoots frisbees and climbs up nine foot tall towers,” she said. “Few teams have figured out how to climb past the first couple towers.”
Fortunately, according to sophomore Elizabeth Chang-Davidson, all the members are available to pitch in. “There are nearly 20 [of the 60] members in the lab on any given day,” Chang-Davidson said. “Plus, the team captains are there every day.”
Chang-Davidson believes that the all-girls environment helps motivate the members to come to the lab and contribute during build season. “From what I’ve seen, most robotics teams have a strict organization system; a few people delegate tasks to everyone else,” she said. “In [Space Cookies] everyone gets the chance to work on what they want. It helps encourage people to do their best.”
Schlossberg feels similarly. “I love going to the lab because I know everyone will have great ideas, be motivated and be passionate about building,” she said.
The team’s mentors, who are provided by National Aeronautics and Space Association (NASA), are also available to assist at the lab each and every day. “The mentors teach us how to build robots and guide us through the entire building process,” Schlossberg said. “They can be really helpful because they have worked in the field for years.”
One of the team’s goals includes returning to the World Championships. “I definitely think we can do it,” senior Annie Shark said. “Our main goal right now is to focus on shooting the frisbees. If we can accomplish that, I think Worlds is definitely within our reach.”
The team also hopes to win the Chairman’s Award for the third year in a row. In the FIRST league, the award marks the highest level of accomplishment and automatically guarantees the winning team a ride to the World Championships. “It celebrates a team that is changing the culture of robotics and engineering,” Schlossberg said. “As an all-girls team, we bring women into engineering and celebrate their leadership in science, engineering, technology and mathematics.”
The objective of the VEX club is to build a strong, functional robot out of the parts in the kits. Competition is just as fierce. “[Our] main goal is to make it to the World Championships,” club president junior Margaret Qian wrote in an e-mail.
This year, Gunn’s VEX team numbers are 192A, 192B and 192C. According to Qian, team 192B has already reached the final stage of building while team 192A is progressing on creating a working robot. “We have finished building and programming our entire robot, and now we are in the process of testing and refining,” Qian wrote. “192C does not have a finished robot, but they definitely are well on their way to finishing in time before the competition.”
For competition, VEX teams are designing robots that scoop up small square cloth sacks filled with bean-like beads and drop them in separate containers. Both skill and speed are need in the arena competition When time is up, the winning robot will be the one that has “cleaned up” the most number of bag pouches. “[It’s] a robot that addresses a specific problem, [because] you have to actually build it as opposed to a theoretical solution,” advisor Jacintha Kompella said.
At the beginning of build season, members of VEX separated into teams, bought their kits and started their robots. According to Kompella, the individual teams of two to three people allow for creativity, teamwork and individual growth opportunities. Although she offers guidance from time to time, Kompella mainly supervises the students. “They’re very self-driven,” she said. “They do their own designs, problem-solving, troubleshooting and testing.”
Competing is a big part of VEX competitions, but Kompella says that VEX is more about having fun. “It’s a safe place to pursue interests, have fun and make friends,” she said. “The juniors and seniors teach the freshmen and sophomore kids to do the right things and model good behavior.” Qian notes the friendly atmosphere as well. “Working together with my teammates is a rewarding experience, and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it,” she wrote. “I’ve learned so much about the process of building a robot.”
Even though the ultimate achievement would be advancing to VEX World Championships, Scarborough has a more personal accomplishment in mind. “My goal [is] to have a robot I can be proud of and does well under the circumstances it was built,” he said.
Kompella furthers this mindset with a hope for an increase in the number of participants. “My end goal would be to see the numbers grow,” she said. “[VEX] is a place for them to hang out, have fun, try out ideas, succeed in events. On occasion when [they] experience failure, they learn from their failures because you learn more when you hit a wall.”