World Champions – The Road of Robotics


Photo Credit: Gerard Nifras

Gerard Nifras, Staff Writer

The robotics club may have lost its physical interactive appeal to COVID, but they became the first world champions of a virtual drone tournament. Before the virus, the usual goal for the club was to create a functioning bot and climb as high as they could in a robotics competition run by VEX, a company that specializes in robotics. During the empty COVID era, the club’s advisor, Ms. Pontius, affectionately called the coach, invited the team to compete in a similar competition virtually under VRAD, another robotics company. The game was VRAD Martian Survival and the goal was to collect more rocks than your opponent for your team. The game provided each team, red and blue, a drone run by keyboard inputs, two automatic drones that respond to the python coding language, and mines that are randomly set on the field placed by a random number generator system. Often, the games rely on skill as much as luck since the rng places the mines ambiguously, but Team 57001A balanced both on their favors, making them world champion candidates.

I asked my team what was easy and hard about playing the games and their respective roles. Umair, a familiar name, and the main coder for the club and team said, “..the hardest part of the game was figuring out how to make the drones land on the mines accurately… It was quite frustrating that the people I was scrimmaging with were able to be so accurate.” Luckily, Mr. Dembowski was given credit for teaching us to use trigonometry to accurately pinpoint desired mines. The easiest part of playing this game was teaching my teammates how the code worked and adapting in the process. Similarly, Fausto, our main driver, and I found the controls docile because the keyboard-input drone pays homage to other keyboard-dependent games, like Minecraft. I had the slower computer so I was designated as Fausto’s understudy.

Furthermore, competing against each other with similar strategies was a highlight for making strategies and memories. It was entertaining to assemble on Google Meets and stream our games (take notes Twitch.) Umair recalled, “It was fun to see Fausto messing with his camera settings and giving my teammates a closeup of my eye on the camera, in between games of course.” One of the administrators wished us good luck and Umair tried to respond with “thank you” using Discord letter emotes. His computer lagged and the emote reaction read “HATNKYOU,” which is still hilarious. Another joke was the notorious “Canadian sandwich.” During the preliminaries, we were often placed 2nd among the top three scorers, the other two teams being from the same Canadian school, hence the namesake. Overall, strategy and intelligence are integral to win games. Keeping our cool by enticing casual tomfoolery optimized our concentration.

When asked if we thought we could become champions, we agreed that it was a common goal. We had the right programming and active skill distributed among our team members, which sealed our competence as we ended the season in third place. Umair recalled that we did get demoralized by the losses we had, especially our losses on the last day of the season but the mild losses were blessings in disguise as they didn’t note our strategy (emptying mines without taking some rocks for ourselves). Sure enough, after learning from our mistakes, we were crowned world champions. 

As the current club president, I couldn’t be more proud of our exponential growth as a team and it gave us hope for a ground-breaking future. After the tournament, we looked back fondly over our cooperative skills. Umair and Fausto give credit to Mr. McCarthy for their Python expertise as their AP Computer Science Principles teacher. Umair noted, “I was glad to be able to effectively work with my teammates to ensure our success.” While the whole team will be graduating this year, I think the fact that we were able to become world champions and leave our mark will be a major inspiration to our future members. They could be bewildered by the hole we will leave, but sure enough, I’m certain that the respect gained for the robotics club this year will carry on with them. In the meantime, we revel in our paramount achievement.