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Robotics teams keep up the hard work during distance learning

Courtesy of Julianne ’22

Even with their robots stuck on campus, Marlborough’s robotics teams are continuing to meet virtually and maximize the time remaining in the 2019-2020 season. Although FIRST, the nonprofit that hosts their robotics competitions, cancelled all remaining tournaments on March 12 including World Championships, Curiosity and Marlbots were already celebrating their best seasons in recent history. 

Both robotics teams qualified for the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship, with Marlbots also qualifying last season and Curiosity qualifying for the first time in the team’s history. They earned their spots by working together on a winning alliance during Los Angeles Regionals. Marlbots picked up the Inspire award for their second year in a row, which is awarded to the team who is strongest in all qualities judged for awards. 

Co-captain of the Marlbots Emma ‘21 said that their performance at Regionals, where their robot’s main wood panel snapped during the last qualifying match for finals, was at least a memorable highlight to end on.

“We had the craziest comeback story, from breaking in half to being on the winning alliance,” Emma said. “I was really glad that during my last season, I was able to be so involved and really pour my heart into this team and everything that we do.”

Marlbots, Curiosity and Asteria, Marlborough’s seventh and eighth grade robotics teams, advanced to Regionals as the winning alliance of a January elimination tournament, which was the first time Marlborough had three teams advance to Regionals.

The World Championship was supposed to take place from April 15 to April 18 in Houston, TX, but Curiosity and Marlbots have had to transition away from tournament preparations. Senior co-captain of Curiosity Grace ’20 said there was disappointment among Curiosity members, but also an understanding of the gravity of the measures taken to protect participants from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The whole team was sad to hear that the event was canceled, but I think it was the right decision for the organization to make,” Grace said. “It would have been held in a giant convention center, which just wouldn’t have been good for the safety and health of everybody.”

Curiosity has continued to meet every weekday for an hour as they discuss their new project: developing face shields for the medical community. Curiosity member Julianne ‘22 proposed the idea, which centered around taking home Marlborough’s 3-D printer with permission from STEM Program Co-Head Andrew Witman.

“It was really driven by the students on Curiosity,” Witman said. “I talked with the Administration, and we decided that it was a great idea and that they could take it home.”

The team printed their first prototype on March 30 using public design files. They have been adhering to sanitation procedures and, with several parents who work in the medical field, they hope to distribute the shields with the aid of those parents.

Curiosity and Marlbots are also working on compiling a robotics “textbook,” with members assigned to write specific sections so that all their resources and research are in the same place. Most information on robot design and codes are in online forums or discovered through trial-and-error, and an ultimate source for FIRST robotics does not exist.

“It took me a long time to make all the mistakes that you have to make, and if there’s something already available that can help other people not have to go through this same extended process of making every mistake possible, then that will hopefully save time in the future and allow people to extend their knowledge even further,” Emma said.

Witman said he predicts that next year the teams will return even stronger than before, ready to qualify and hopefully then attend World Championships. In the meantime, both teams have been hosting Zoom bonding sessions to regain the rest of the year as best they can.

“It’s really amazing how the team has come together during these times, to bond with each other and come up with solutions to help out the community and also find ways to keep doing robotics, even though we don’t have access to the school or the robots,” Grace said.

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