The Burroughs Robotics team is known for its ability to figure things out and make them work.
Last season was impressive by any measure. Each of the three robotics teams managed to design and fabricate robots that would be highly respected by their fellow competitors. The freshman team won second place at the regional championships, losing out only to the varsity team after a hard-fought struggle between two teams of incredible competence. The Burroughs Vex Robotics Club was more than eager to see its Varsity team off to nationals before beginning the next season.
Unfortunately, there would be no nationals. Ongoing travel and gathering restrictions put the possibility of a new season into question. A new one had been announced, but no one knows if competitions would resume The coronavirus pandemic sent everyone home, put life on pause, and the robotics team was no exception. Even they could not tinker their way out of this.
“I was looking forward to a new season and a new game in a new school, and I am really disappointed and sad that I wouldn’t be really competing this year,” said Freshman Team Captain Cayden Houck.
The summer had always been a time where the teams could create and realize new designs, experiment with new concepts, and really begin to get ready for the upcoming season – not that they need a season to want to build a better robot.
When robotics students were sent home, they were sent home not only with their textbooks and backpacks but with aluminum bars and motors as well. Bedrooms converted into workshops, and Zoom calls took the place of team meetings. The teams were still absolutely driven to continue working and to utilize their time as greatly as possible, but working from home did not prove easy.
“The pandemic definitely makes it extremely difficult to have really constructive meetings because not everyone can have their hands on the robot, being able to really see what’s going on, how mechanisms work and how different parts interact with each other,” said junior Gabriel Neipp, the lead programmer on the junior varsity team.
In the past, the club has always been highly collaborative, and rarely did only one person work on the robot at a time. Suddenly losing the ability to quickly and effectively communicate on the issues often proved a struggle. Faced with this struggle, the team members persevered individually but with a common goal in mind.
“I was working with the robot for multiple hours a day by myself,” said junior Hannah Ostermann, a mechanic on the varsity team. “Despite all the challenges over the summer, I do feel proud of what each member of the team could build by themselves. As a team, we have yet to meet all together and work on the robot. However, the fact that we have a prototype of a robot that is mostly functional is pretty amazing.”
Of the three teams – varsity, junior varsity, and freshman – conventional wisdom states the freshman team would struggle the greatest with the transition, having to adapt to a new world without the resources and guidance of the veteran team members, but this has proven to be the furthest from the truth. The rising freshmen hardly skipped a beat once they finally found their footing and all the proper tools.
“At first, we needed to get all the parts and pieces to start the robot. A few weeks later was when the robot really started to come together,” said Houck. “We have a mostly working robot that is almost ready for an actual match. Almost.”
The pandemic has been arguably one of the most far-reaching and destructive events in recent memory, with no person going unaffected. The pandemic cannot be triumphed over in the same way other events were. The pandemic is not beaten by the strength of spirit and continuing to live as normal through adversity. To beat the pandemic, we have to play by its rules, not our own. To triumph would be to wear a mask, stay inside, and keep apart – not for a robotics team or so that sports can resume, but for the thousands who don’t have the option, and the thousands who would still be here if we had.