SAEL’s robotics team sees early success | TheUnion.com

SAEL’s robotics team sees early success

Mia Belluomini
Staff Writer

Like a well oiled-machine, or rather, a well-programmed robot, the Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning robotics team is making a name for itself in the world of robotics.

In the short time the club has existed, since last fall, the group of 11 students have competed in four competitions in California and won three. The team recently qualified for the California Virtual Robot Controller High School State Championships in Vallejo on March 3.

Beyond that, team members hope to be eligible for national, and even global, competition.

But this success has not come without time and hard work. In the average week, the club meets for 8-10 hours, having two-hour practices twice a week after school and nearly every Saturday, meeting at the home of the team's captain, Charlie Babe. It is this time and perseverance that has contributed to their success.

“You fix one little error at a time and you eventually get it to be perfect.”

— Arlo Roos, programmer and robot pilot

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"I think it's the commitment of all the people who spend so much of their time perfecting our robot," said Babe. "Even if we don't have the perfect field or have all the supplies, we can improvise."

During practices, the team works to perfect Legend 27, the squad's robot. This robot is unique because of its versatility. Most teams at competitions have robots that complete certain tasks and have to rely on their alliance — another team they are matched up with for the duration of the competition — to compensate with their robot's skill. The Legend 27, however, can do it all; it has the parts and ability to complete every task in this season's competition challenge.

The process of building the robot was extensive. The team began by reading the guidelines for this year's competitions, outlining what tasks the robot should be able to complete, such as stacking cones. Then they gained inspiration for their design by watching videos of the robots other people had made. Next the group created a blueprint incorporating everybody's ideas, before gathering materials and starting the build.

For the team's two programmers and four robot mechanics, the building process is never truly over. Working with robots requires flexibility and innovation, as inconsistencies are common. Something that worked one day might not work the next, so the team is constantly innovating new ideas to fix problems, whether it be perfecting the code down the 20th decimal place or using differential equations to solve an issue with motor overheating.

"There have been so many tests and every time we have to make a small, minute change, it's actually very similar to a school assignment," said Arlo Roos, one of the team's programmers and copilot of Legend 27. "You fix one little error at a time and you eventually get it to be perfect."

During competition, the ability to fix errors quickly becomes essential. Robotics competitions consist of a series of scored "matches" against other teams. If something goes wrong in one match, the problem must be fixed before the next match. One modification can change the way the whole robot functions.

Determination and patience are the reasons the club has found success, team members said. Despite not having all the resources of a larger school, the club's resourcefulness has bridged the gap.

Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning provides the space and pays all the team's entrance fees for competitions, but the rest is paid for by the families of the club members and through the team's GoFundMe page. The club applied for and received a $1,000 grant from the Northrop Grumman Foundation.

Team members said the club also wouldn't exist if it weren't for James Babe, who donates his time to support the students during every practice, opens up his home every Saturday and helps provide transportation to competitions.

Next year the school hopes to further support students who are interested in robotics by embedding more computer science coding work into their Intro to Tech class.

Mia Belluomini is a student at Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning and intern at The Union. Contact her at ncpcintern@theunion.com.

HOW TO HELP

To support the Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning robotics team, visit the GoFundMe page at http://www.gofundme.com/8jngk-robotics-club.