Robotics team wins top two awards, qualifies for regionals

March 4, 2021 — by Andy Chen and Kaasha Minocha

Juniors Gavin Chang and senior Riya Jain wire and adjust the team’s robot in preparation for the Fremont #4 qualifier.

Team 6165 Cuttlefish looks to continue their strong outreach and robot performance during regionals in May.

Just a few days before MSET First Tech Challenge (FTC) team 6165 Cuttlefish participated in their second qualifier competition on Feb. 13, senior Riya Jain, the team’s hardware lead, worked with her team to meticulously test each individual part of their robot.
The 15-member team later won the two most prominent awards at the competition — the Inspire Award and the Robot Game Award — double-qualifying for regionals.
The Inspire Award is given to the team that best embodies outreach and serves as an ambassador for STEM in their community, and the Robot Game award goes to the best performing robot and drive team. The Cuttlefish scored 2016 points, outperforming the second place team by 737 points out of a pool of 10 participating teams.

On top of these awards, the Cuttlefish received second place for the Think Award, given to teams with the most detailed and fleshed out engineering design processes. 

In order to verify their score, the team submitted recordings of their six robot runs, with the sum of each run’s score culminating in their 2016 points. The Cuttlefish also met with various judges, giving a detailed presentation on the intricacies of their robot as well as answering any questions on outreach. Jain said that the team spent weeks polishing their presentation and practicing responses to judging questions.

According to lead mentor Anh Quan Nguyen, the team’s success stemmed from their adaptability following their transition to an online environment.

For example, they managed to transition a majority of their in-person outreach initiatives online and, in some cases, use this opportunity to better their programs. 

“Our team has a motto: ‘You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf,’” Nguyen said. “Essentially, we look to leverage disadvantages into advantages.”

Nguyen cited the team’s speaker series initiative, in which Cuttlefish members invite industry professionals to present their experiences to students and parents. In the past, speakers would come in-person, but by transitioning the event online, the team managed to invite a broader range of speakers and reach a larger audience.

“We have students from other schools and community members and parents who normally wouldn't have the time to drive all the way to our school coming to watch our speakers,” Nguyen said. “We've even been able to get speakers from two or three time zones away.”

Nguyen also recognized the team’s hard work as a key factor in their success. Working “down to the wire,” the team managed to improve their robot score by 50 percent after transitioning to in-person cohorts in January — the team’s lowest scoring round during this qualifier still outperformed their highest scoring round during their December qualifier. 

Jain is proud that the team’s work paid off since teams must traditionally perform strongly in all aspects of the competition — hardware, software, design and outreach — to win the Inspire award. 

“Winning [the Inspire Award] was a really rewarding feeling,” Jain said. “Personally, I've put in four years of work and have done a little bit of every category, so it feels really good to be recognized for that.”

Aside from these technical skills, however, Jain also said she values her personal growth this season. 

Jain said she has learned how to better delegate work and how to be more efficient at getting work done. With limited access to in-person meetings, she had to figure out how to plan the team’s meetings to take advantage of the little in-person time they had while also delegating more asynchronous work so everyone stayed actively involved.

Along with learning how to delegate work, Jain has focused on creating a sense of team unity. 

“When I was a freshman, everyone was independent and had their own small place in the team, and it felt a bit more isolated,” Jain said. “But as the years have gone on, everyone’s gradually started to have a place on the team, and everyone has work to do. Because of that, it's felt a lot more like a family.”

Currently, the Cuttlefish are preparing for their regionals on May 1. They plan to continue refining their robot and expand their reach through additional outreach events in an effort to make significant impacts beyond their local community. 

Nguyen said he believes the team has a “good chance” of performing well at regionals. Although competition is tough, he believes the Cuttlefish will continue to thrive under pressure.

“Competition breeds excellence,” he said. “When we do a little better, we inspire others to perform better, which in turn motivates us to continue to improve. I think that’s the beauty of the game.”

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