We, Robot

At the end of the robot’s long, movable arm is a claw that’s supposed to work a certain way, but it wasn’t working that way, and four members of the Upper School Robotics team stood in a tight cluster murmuring.

“You guys have got this. Have fun!” said teacher and coach, Kit Fuderich. He dashed from the room to greet Middle School LEGO Robotics students, who were stopping by for a demonstration knowing that one day they might also compete in FTC.

By the time Fuderich reappeared with MS students, the US team was already fixing the machine. “How’s it going?” Fuderich asked. James L. ’17 spoke for the team as they scrambled to pick up pieces of the arm that had stopped malfunctioning, but only because it had fallen off the robot entirely. “We’re working on it,” James said.

The Upper School technology class is competing in the Pennsylvania FIRST Tech Challenge, a competition in which teams build and program a robot to complete certain tasks on a common course. Every team starts with the same parts and has to write the robot’s code in the same programming language, but other than that, each group designs a unique robot they hope will be the most capable on the course.

“We’ve had to work hard to get our robot running and we’ve had to do some engineering improvisation along the way, but for a rookie team, I’m incredibly pleased with how far we’ve come and how well the guys work together to solve problems, communicate with each other and stay cool while they’re doing it,” Fuderich said.

On this day, the class was preparing a series of trial runs both to refine the machine’s functioning and their own as a team. Each team member has different responsibilities. While Brad F. and Matt B. ’19 are in charge of steering the robot, James is responsible for writing the code that drives the robot, including how sensitively the robot’s treads, claw and other moving parts respond to inputs from the remote control. Paul is sort of the team’s director of communications, maintaining their website, shooting photos and video and more. The final member of the squad is Griffin R. ’16, a team captain who counsels the drivers during matches and contributes robot repairs and driving technique improvements via his 3-D printing independent study with Fuderich.

After they wrapped up their demonstration, Fuderich spoke to his Middle School students. “I hope you stay with this,” he said. “It’s immensely satisfying and, as you just saw, the class is about engineering and coding, but it’s even more about finding your role and helping out the team.”

Speaking before the demo, Brad offered a perspective on the class that mirrored his teacher’s, albeit in slightly blunter language.

“There are so many things that have gone wrong and so many things that we’ve had to figure out how to fix. But once everything starts working, it’s been the most fun class ever.”