In face of coronavirus, robotics club prepares for competition

December 3, 2020 — by Andy Chen
everyone working on robot
Photo by Aryan Gupta

Members of Team 6165’s hardware team examine the robot for flaws and imperfections.

The MSET Robotics team has continued to meet in person after school to prepare for an upcoming competition on Dec. 5.

One of the club’s three First Tech Challenge (FTC) teams, Team 6165 Cuttlefish, will compete against 19 other teams in the NorCal FTC Google Qualifying Remote competition. To maintain public safety, teams will record their robots performing and send the videos in for judging instead of competing at an actual location.

While the competition will function digitally, the team must still meet in-person to build a functioning robot, said senior Riya Jain, president of MSET. The team has been meeting at the school three times a week; attendance is limited to cohorts of seven out of 15 total members, and masks and temperature checks are mandatory.

“The season has definitely felt a lot more difficult than previous seasons because there are so many more logistics we have to navigate in order to keep everybody safe and healthy,” said Jain, who also serves as the team’s hardware lead. 

Due to limited in-person meeting times, the team also hosts regular meetings through Zoom in order to illustrate ideas, delegate tasks and discuss asynchronous modules, like software and outreach. 

In fact, the team spends just as much, if not more time working asynchronously than they do in-person, said lead mentor Anh-Quan Nguyen. Students must design exact prototypes of various parts of the robot to discuss during organizational meetings and eventually assemble during in-person meetings, and the hardware team often takes individual modules home to work on overnight.

“They have had to be much more organized than usual to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of our limited in-person meeting,” Nguyen said. “Something would inevitably fail or need refinement, and the process would start over. Despite our limitations, I have been increasingly impressed by the product they have been able to put out.”

Nguyen added that he is impressed with the team and whole club’s active outreach efforts within the community, even with COVID-19 limiting in-person volunteering opportunities. So far, the club has organized multiple new outreach initiatives, including a virtual block-based coding camp for elementary schoolers, a Python camp for middle schoolers and a video plaform to teach English to young women in India for Vikalp, an organization dedicated to ending child marriage in India through education.

Nguyen also expects the team to perform strongly during the competition.

“Suffice to say, we will all have engineered robots that we can be proud of, and we will acquit ourselves well in the upcoming competitions,” Nguyen said. 

Regardless of their performance at the upcoming competition, Jain believes that the team has done a great job of adapting to the unprecedented conditions.

“I am most proud of how each individual member of my team has been taking the initiative to make sure everything that needs to get done happens,” Jain said. “I definitely recognize and appreciate all of the work everybody is putting in, and I’m really happy with how our entire team has come together to make sure we are able to maximize our potential even with these circumstances.”