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2022-2023 Middle School Application

By: Derek Chang

“It’s time to wake up!” my dad shouted to me. I had been waiting for this day since the summer. It was game day for my first robotics competition! Even though I still had a mild fever from last night, I couldn’t miss the event!

Of course, before the competition, we had to do a lot of preparation. We discussed the robot design, and navigation strategy to complete the missions. We had team meetings during some weekends. We discussed ideas in the meetings and practiced robotic operations.

Before we even got started coding the robot or building it, we decided that the robot was going to need to be compact to navigate around tight spaces. After Aakash, a team member, built the robot, I took it home, and spent time writing the code. He built the robot and I wrote the code because he was good at hardware, but I was good at software since I had a lot of experience with code before. After all the code was complete, we had to try to get the robot to go faster, because there was a two minutes 30 second time limit. However, if we went too fast, the robot would lose accuracy, and it would have a higher chance of doing something wrong. In addition to the meetings, usually on school days, I worked by myself for at least one hour to polish the code, practice my presentation, and a lot more.

This picture was taken in the Palo Alto Gunn High School. In the background, you can see posters about a project each team needed to research. There was a lot of music and fun events that day, as well as live commentary, which made it feel like a sports event. The goal of the competition was to score as many points as possible by completing missions, such as pulling something back, or pushing a button. The robot had to do everything autonomously, or without being touched, since you lost points if you touched it. Each team played three rounds, and only the best-scoring round counted towards the score. During the first round, we got really nervous and were constantly forgetting things. For example, my teammate Aakash forgot to put on an attachment. Also, I interrupted the robot, which cost points, when the timer was close to zero, but couldn’t do anything with the robot afterwards. In the first run, the referee pointed out a rule in the rulebook we didn’t even see, and we needed to re-plan a mission, since our original plan would go against the rules.

However, there was an even bigger problem: the robot had stopped moving! First, we thought it was a battery problem, but putting in new batteries didn’t fix it. Even worse, it was almost time for our second run! Suddenly, I thought that it might be a motor problem, since a similar motor problem happened in the past, and thankfully, changing the motor fixed it. We couldn’t get a practice table after that before the next run, so we wouldn’t see if I actually fixed the robot, or change our planning. Coming into round two, I could only hope it would be better than round one. It was better, so we wanted the last run to be even better. However, there was no time to waste, and we went straight to re-planning our runs. It wasn’t complicated, and just needed a different alignment.

This picture depicts our best run, the third one. After almost no screw-ups, we were filled with excitement and ran over to the leaderboard and saw that we were able to get 290 points and get third place! I felt really proud of myself since there were only two people on the team: Aakash and I!

This photo reminds me of all the hard work I did. I hope that we might get a bigger team next year, and this year should give us a head start.

If you could spend a day with anyone (alive or dead, real or fictional), who would it be? What would you do?

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