Way to go, GatorBots!

The GatorBots, Chapin’s talented Upper School robotics team, demonstrated remarkable ingenuity, determination, collaboration and poise as they competed in the 2022 FIRST Robotics regional competition, held April 8-10 at The Armory in Washington Heights. The action-packed event, which brought together 48 high-school teams from New York City and the Hudson Valley, was the organization’s first live contest in three years.

Over the course of the weekend, Chapin’s 14-member team* debuted the industrial-size robot they built entirely themselves, navigating the machine through a series of tasks and timed contests around a “future of transportation” theme. Looking polished in their grey and green GatorBots sweatshirts, these expert engineers and programmers gave the battles their all and handled each match and the various challenges they encountered with skill, maturity and confidence.

“Out of 48 teams, we came in 21st,” commented Science teacher and longtime robotics coach Prasad Akavoor, who coached the GatorBots with Math and Technology teacher Anthony Larson. This finish was especially impressive given the fact that one of the robot’s cables and a belt snapped mid-play, resulting in lost games and a drop in the rankings.

“The students repaired the robot on the spot to the best of their ability, and we came back up to rank 21 by the time the Regional ended,” said Dr. Akavoor. “This was no simple task,” he noted. “Fixing something under tremendous pressure is, as you can imagine, extremely difficult.”

During the season, the team worked in the Hayot Center for Innovation every weekday afternoon, except Thursdays, as well as on Saturdays. Led by their co-captains, Bela Filstrup and Lauren Seeman (both in Class 12), each member performed an integral role in the planning, design, building and testing processes. They safely handled sophisticated equipment and materials, learned to use complex coding programs, made countless crucial decisions, and formed a cohesive, powerful unit.

Although the outside engineering mentors who typically offer support were unable to provide in-person assistance this year because of Covid restrictions, “Alex Khesin, a Chapin parent, helped our team with programming, and he was invaluable,” said Dr. Akavoor.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a non-profit organization that promotes STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) through vigorous robotics programming across the nation and internationally. Teams from around the world have a six-week “build season” to design, construct and program a robot that will ultimately compete against other student robots in official competitions.

Guided by this year’s transportation theme, the FIRST teams, including the GatorBots, were charged with “thinking about future transportation sustainability,” according to the FIRST website. “We’re also empowering them to be the next generation of leaders and innovators, tackling the world’s toughest challenges.”

In Upper School, Students in Classes 8-12 are welcome to participate in robotics, an after-school activity that runs throughout the year and is made possible through the generosity of the Swarzman Family Robotics Program.

“As someone who has been helping lead the team since it formed, I really couldn’t be prouder of how far we have come,” remarked Co-Captain Bela Filstsrup. “Seeing how much everyone learned this season, from the underclassmen who were now having the opportunity to use power tools and go through the full engineering design process for the first time, or the nines I was mentoring in programming and how well they now understand Java, I think these are our true successes.”

Bela added, “I will never forget the feeling of driving our robot for the last time and it successfully climbing into the air and just the joy I felt that we had been able to come together and produce an amazing robot.”

Congratulations GatorBots! We’re so proud of you!

*2021-2022 GatorBots
Bela Filstrup (Co-Captain), Class 12
Lauren Seeman (Co-Captain), Class 12
Sara Atluri, Class 11
Eleanor Arms, Class 11
Zoë Arms, Class 11
Emani Babb, Class 10
Ella Clifford, Class 11
Jeena Cohen, Class 8
Emeline Hobart, Class 9
Anabel Kahn, Class 9
Maya Nozaki, Class 8
Mao Nozaki, Class 11
Sophie Purcell, Class 9
Sophia Trapani, Class 11

Coaches: Prasad Akavoor and Anthony Larson