At the Armory Track & Field Center in Upper Manhattan this past weekend, the Double X robotics team gave it their all. As participants in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) global robotics competition, these accomplished and determined upper school students were among 51 teams in the New York area to compete in these thrilling games. And what a spectacular event it was!
Over three action-packed days, Double X*, Chapin’s joint venture with The Brearley School, experienced the rewards of keeping their eyes on the prize throughout a meticulously demanding design and execution process. Although the team ultimately did not score enough points to continue on to the next round, the lessons learned and the skills developed will most certainly endure.
“I learned that I can perform in high pressure circumstances, find unique solutions to problems, and be a leader,” commented Erin, a Class 10 student and member of the 20-person Double X team, which is sponsored by NBC Comcast and coached by Chapin’s science teacher Dr. Prasad Akavoor, among other professional mentors.
After this year’s challenge was announced in the first week in January, the students entered into an intense, six-week “build season” during which they built and programmed an industrial-size robot to perform specified tasks and to compete against other student robots in a series of timed contests. To begin the robot-building process, each team was allotted a “kit of parts,” or KOP, which included materials, tools and instructions. Teams were also permitted to purchase additional equipment.
By any measure, the production schedule was incredibly demanding: Double X met from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. after school every day except Thursday, as well as from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 4:00 p.m. on Sundays. “It is a big time commitment but committing yourself to the team really pays off,” said Tallulah, a Class 9 student. “You learn a lot about building, coding, electronics, strategy, leadership and working together.”
To be successful in robotics, “students have to have consistency, commitment and communication,” explained Dr. Akavoor, who has coached robotics for 12 years, in addition to teaching physics and engineering.
Gathered with other boisterous participants in the armory, Double X exuded confidence and fortitude. With their coaches, mentors and parents on hand to offer guidance and encouragement, the students began the competition on Friday, April 6, by making last-minute adjustments to their robot, running practice drills on the field and undergoing a mandatory robot inspection. Then, all day Saturday and Sunday morning, April 7-8, the robots -- grouped in threes, called “alliances,” and operated by student “drivers” using special joysticks – began competing. On Sunday afternoon, the top-ranked robots competed individually in playoff matches, with the regional winners earning spots at upcoming national and international competitions.
“The atmosphere at the competition is very exciting,” remarked Tallulah, a Class 9 student. “Since our robot was already finished, our build team spent time scouting other teams and talking to them about their robots and process. This helps us in our competition and also gives us ideas about what we can improve on next year.”
Surrounded by laptops, crates of tools, batteries, nuts and bolts and, of course, their 120-pound creation, the team members sported light-blue Double X shirts and looked every bit the talented engineers, scientists and computer programmers they are.
Their passion is inspiring. “Robotics is something I do because I feel it has almost become a part of me,” commented Isabela, a Class 8 student. “I have learned so much through my years of robotics, like being able to speak in front of a panel of judges, or staying calm when everything seems to go wrong, and finding the best fix in the shortest amount of time. It also really boosts my confidence when an idea I have becomes real and then works.”
The students also appreciated the opportunity to interact with teammates from different grades. As Isabela noted, “Being in 8th grade, it is really cool to know girls who are in 10th and 12th grade.”
As the 2018 FIRST robotics competition drew to a close and the Double X robot and miscellaneous equipment had been packed up for transport back to school, there was no doubt that this extraordinary undertaking was a valuable and worthwhile endeavor. Despite considerable fatigue, these students and mentors have every reason to feel proud.
“While the final product is certainly important, we come out of the program with much more than a robot,” said Erin. “Robotics provides an opportunity for academic and personal growth, not only by exposing students to STEM skills, but teaching them problem solving, leadership, grace under pressure, and much more.”
* Double X team members from Chapin: Serahn Berman (Class 9), Erin Donohue (Class 10), Isabela Filstrup (Class 8), Tallulah Leon (Class 9), Chanelle Moise (Class 11), Sonya Narvekar (Class 9), Dyana Sanaycela (Class 10), Lauren Seeman (Class 8), Pauline Vail (Class 8), Emily Willett (Class 9).
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the competition with the video below:
Browse photos from the competition below: