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Failure is for winners: Tales of the Robotics Team

Trying to get a robot to complete tasks according to its programming may sound simple enough (if not, thanks for being honest) until you actually attempt to do it. And, as long as we have been on the Kent Place robotics team, we have faced many challenges but are still managing to be oh-so-innovative in the Innovation Lab. As Woody Allen once said, “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative,” and we feel that this definitely defines KPS robotics because, failing now and again? Check. Trust us when we say that we take “innovation” to a whole new level.

And no, this is not a collection of negative experiences! We have faced lots of challenges, but they have all helped us come together as a team and create a really awesome robot... by the later part of the season at least! These experiences have allowed us to become a better team, and we look forward to next season where we will hopefully be able to flex a fully functioning robot more often! In all honesty, there is nothing that beats the feeling of rolling up to a robotics competition with a robot that actually works. And this season, we have had many successes too! We won a few motivate awards (just casual scholar leader things) and moved up in rank about 9 positions, which, for people not involved in the robotics world, is HUGE :)

Now, we must give credit where credit is due, and in this case, it is to our robot, Theo Botyonce. Without Theo, this article would not have been possible. Yes, you read that right, Theo Botyonce. Brainstorming names was such a fun activity for our team, and among the front-runners were Spud, Contusion, Vember (so that we can say “NO Vember! Don’t do that!” How creative, we know) and so many more. If you have ever built anything at all, you know that coming up with a name is the most important part!

Now, we’d like to think of Theo Beyonce as a really spunky teenager because he is often unpredictable and usually refuses to do what we literally programmed him to do. We would code a program for Theo to follow, and it would look great on the computer, fabulous even, but when we tested it out Theo, would decide to do something slightly different (sometimes due to hardware issues) or COMPLETELY different to the point where he would run into walls, people and more.

Eventually, we came to the conclusion that “ghost code”, or code that the robot is following that we cannot see, MUST be a thing. It is definitely the computer, not us, definitely... right?

Theo doing things that we did not program him to do has allowed us to understand why some people are afraid that robots will take over the world... they have minds of their own! And, even when ghost code wasn’t an issue, we could test Theo out in the field, and each time we ran the same program, Theo would do something different! No amount of begging him to do what we asked could sway his rebellious mind :(

Dealing with Theo’s behavior issues at competitions often lead to awkward exchanges with the officials and pitiful looks from other teams when Theo would decide to suddenly flip (BAM! Throws a twisting back tuck on the spot!) over in the middle of a competition. So, while Theo proved to be quite the gymnast, he still did not exhibit any desire to follow directions -- so stubborn!

Several times, we had to simply stand around the competition floor doing nothing because our robot flipped over, and there was nothing we could do. Although, “Only flipping over was an improvement from last year because at least we always remembered to turn on the robot...but even if we initially forgot we could look into the audience where our teammates were frantically waving their hands trying to remind us” says Subha C. Gosh, is this the frustration our parents must feel about us equally spunky teens?? Our sincerest apologies, we finally understand the struggle of parenting teens.

So, robotics meet every Monday and Friday, totaling about 4 hours a week. Yes, we know, the grind really doesn’t stop for robotics. If you have ever wondered what cool people do on Fridays, we are here to tell you that they definitely go to robotics! And, even with this time, it somehow took us about a month to build a practice obstacle for competition that probably should take most teams a meeting or two at the most. You're now probably thinking, WOW, can you girls build. And yes, we promise we can... but can you code? Probably not, boom ROASTED.

While we are poking fun at our season this year, it is important to circle back to the improvements that we made. Every year, the KPS robo drags do better and better with each competition, and this year was no exception. Yes, Theo might have flipped in 3 out 5 of our competition rounds, but during our last competition, Theo flipped over only once! Also, while we got maybe 15 points per round early on in the season, we were able to increase this number to around 100!

This improvement would not have been possible if it was not for the amazing, fantastic, smart, girls that make up our team, as well as learning our our setbacks. Each and every one of our teammates brings new ideas to the table and allow us to create really awesome designs and programs. Margo and Sasha, our presidents this year, did a really good job delegating tasks and worked hard to come up with new ideas.

Looking back at the wonderful season, Sasha said, ”I think out process in robotics is great preparation for real world of engineering and programming- we’ve learned that pretty much nothing ever works out exactly how we want it to the first time. We’re able to constantly problem solve and improve on our ideas, and that’s super important in the actual world.”

It is not always soley about how well the robot does that is important, but more often the bonds that you form with each other that can last a lifetime, because once you're a robo-drag, you will always be a robo-drag. And hey, you never know, you might see us at a national competition soon ; ) #wildcardraffle

We have many more interesting memories like the “Sprockettes” and looking at other teams’ robot by pretending to be on the phone and

Next time (there will be a sequel!)...

Look for the next article to find out what the heck this is!

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