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Robotics teams utilize new technologies to build robots during distance learning

Sofia ’21 constructs a robot in a socially-distanced, on campus meeting. While the robotics teams have been able to meet in person for part of the school year, they have relied on a new enterprise subscription to OnShape in order to build their robots during distance learning. Photo courtesy of Nina ’22

In the face of a socially distanced year for a typically hands-on activity, the Marlborough robotics teams are persevering with a little help from the Google Docs of computer-aided design. The teams’ new enterprise subscription to OnShape, a program for computer-aided design, as well as adaptation to online learning, have transformed how the team builds their robot and utilizes CAD.

CAD, as the name suggests, is any computer program that assists in design, from building robots to architecture. Although the Upper School teams have been using CAD for years, this is the first year CAD has been incorporated significantly into the middle school teams. While previously CAD was only used to make a few parts for the middle school team every year, distance learning has necessitated increased use of CAD, as it can be done at home. Sarah ’26 believes CAD is a helpful tool in learning more about robotics.

“As a new student at Marlborough and someone who hasn’t had much experience with robotics previously, CAD has been useful to me to show me how parts work, how they fit together and how robots are built,” Sarah said.

In addition to CAD, the middle school teams have found other ways to continue working on their robots. Members of Asteria, one of the middle school teams, took turns taking the robot home to continue working on it while maintaining social distancing, according to STEM Program Co-Head Andrew Witman.

“It would depend on which part of the robots needed to be assembled,” Witman said. “So at first, one person would put the intake together and once that was done they’d pass it on to the next person who put the shooter mechanism on it and did some adjustments and then they’d pass it on to the third person who’d finish off the drive train and then that’ll probably eventually get passed to someone who’s going to program the robot.”

Another change to CAD at Marlborough is the teams’ new enterprise subscription to OnShape. OnShape, often called “the Google Docs of CAD” because it is cloud-based and allows multiple people to collaborate on a piece, has been used by the Marlborough teams for years. During the pandemic, OnShape began offering enterprise accounts, which creates a separate domain for the subscriber to use. Witman thinks that while most robotics students will not see any changes to their experience, the teachers, administrators and captains now have a more convenient way to coordinate and communicate with each other and robotics team members.

“For example, I, or actually the captains of the teams, can see what each individual team member has done and can see the progress on the mechanisms. There are analytics that allow [us] to see how progress is happening on various parts and mechanisms. You can also leave comments and assign tasks to people just like you can in Google Docs,” Witman said.

While social distancing measures have prevented the teams from competing so far this year, the teams are hopeful that they will be able to hold matches when small groups are allowed on campus again. In the meantime, Sarah thinks CAD has made distance learning effective regardless.“Our team has utilized CAD because we can work together on our robot without being physically together, which improves teamwork, collaboration and progress,” Sarah said.

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