Building robots is an art

By Ben C., ‘16

bencassesse

Ben C.

Building robots, to me at least, is more of an art form than an engineering challenge. Analyzing the competitive robotics season from the outside looking in would make my opinion look ridiculous; indeed, the majority of the months spent preparing for competitions is devoted to solving each engineering challenge that stands between any given present and ready machine, and conversations about art in the Lab are generally limited to commenting on a class or are drowned out by the sounds of cutting metal. However, my many hours in assembling subsystems and staring at a laptop with an expression that could illustrate the dictionary’s entry on confusion, have provided enough evidence to back up my claim. Building robots is an art, and engineering, programming, testing, and tweaking are all simply points of a fluid process which never produces a truly finished machine.

My robotics team outside of school keeps a sign on the bulletin board which proclaims “DONE is a four-letter word!” It advertises a mentality that we ignored last year, the first one ever in which Moses Brown fielded a high school robotics team. In the first few weeks of the season, we dreamed up a design capable of doing everything there was to do on the field, said it was “Done,” then proceeded to spend months failing to animate our pile of aluminum and steel the way we imagined we could during those early days in September. We scored in the single digits every match, and broke vital gears every time we went out. The design might have been done, but our robot wasn’t.

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US robotics team members Lyle T. ’18 and Isaac B. ’18.

This year we promised to be more fluid, more flexible with our designs even as we cut them into rigid metal. We spent our first weeks carefully probing the game manual for any loopholes, treading the line between simplicity and effectiveness with utmost care. We focused on small steps each dependent on the previous ones, we prioritized, and we came up with a novel strategy. We weren’t tied to any ideas, and we celebrated every small victory. Above all, we worked.

And the robot has worked. At our first competition this year, we put up the highest score of the qualification rounds, then cruised through the elimination rounds without losing a bout. After the last match of the day, when all of the motors came to rest, the robots stopped buzzing, and the score was tallied, Team 1784A had qualified for the Southern New England Championships, set another high score of the day, and was officially the first Moses Brown robotics team to win a tournament. The best part is, the robot isn’t even done yet. Here’s to more tournaments with the Quakers on top, more work to be done, and an unending resistance to that four letter word.

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