BVH Robotics gears up for the 2020-2021 season

BVH Robotics team adjusts to challenges of pandemic

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the Bonita Vista High (BVH) Robotics team had been meeting regularly in-person in an effort to build, code and test robots. Now, the Robotics team rely on Computer-aided Design (CAD) models in order to assemble robots through software to ensure everyone can help contribute to building from home.  

Although the BVH Robotics team was formerly dependent on constructing robots together in Robotics team Advisor Jason Good’s classroom or at a team member’s house, the Robotics team was able to adapt to the current circumstances with the use of CAD. According to Robotics team Vice President and junior Marcello Garbo, CAD is the use of a software program to make a three-dimensional model of the robot. Robotics team members use a library of downloadable robotics parts for the sake of virtually designing and creating a robot.

“Using CAD software will take some getting used to. As of right now, we are setting up lessons to teach all of our team [members] how to contribute from home,” Garbo said. “The upside to CAD is that we have access to as many parts as we want, as they are all virtual.”

Garbo expressed that the Robotics team was at a disadvantage last year because of primarily having old parts for the robots as well as having insufficient funding to buy the new parts that other teams in the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) had. However, Garbo explains that with the use of CAD, the BVH Robotics team is put on a more equal playing field and “can save up to buy parts in the case that we return to in-person tournaments.” 

Bonita Vista High’s Robotics team holds an online meeting. BVH Robotics Team Vice President Marcello Garbo shares his screen, discussing Computer-aided Design. The team has conducted their activities remotely but remains hopeful for the future. (Photo provided by Marcello Garbo)

“In terms of experience, we grow every year and become more advanced with our building, programming and strategy. But now our skills are being challenged with the constant uncertainty and change occurring. We’re striving to make our program better, and we’re currently looking for competitions,” Robotics team President and senior Isabel Caballero said. 

Prior to COVID-19, the Robotics team revolved around attending the SUHSD’s VEX Robotics League tournaments, which involved participants from other high schools in the district. Students traditionally get paired up with a team from another school and go head to head with two other teams. Each year has different objectives and scoring criteria for the robot. Last year, competitors had to stack blocks.   

“We built robots around the task of the competition. Last year, we built robots that we’re able to stack boxes in corners as that was one of the tasks we decided to focus on. Within one competition we had seven matches and in that match a total of four teams played,” Caballero said. 

Furthermore, BVH Robotics team participates at tournaments as it provides them an opportunity to test their robots and learn from other participants they go against.  

“We were able to see what we could improve on [at tournaments], as well as getting input from the designs of other robots to see how to modify our own,” Garbo said.

Unfortunately, the BVH Robotics team isn’t able to compete at in-person tournaments currently due to COVID-19. This has hindered their ability to test their robots and learn from not only their opponents but also from their shortcomings to  improve their robots. 

“Due to the fact that much of our success comes from testing designs and trial and error, it is hard to get things done virtually,” Robotics team member and senior Jackson Loughney said. 

Quarterfinals of SUHSD’s VEX Robotics League tournaments was the farthest the BVH Robotics team made at state qualifying events before the pandemic. However, members of the BVH Robotics team are looking at participating in online events and are hopeful to compete at regular competitions next semester.

“We don’t even know if there will be a typical competition series that we are allowed to build for this year. That [being] said, the Robotics Education and Competition (REC) foundation has some online contests that we can compete in so we are working toward those and meeting 100 percent digitally to do so,” Good said.

This year’s VEX Robotics Competition is titled, “Change-Up,” which involves teams competing from all around the world placing their assigned balls into certain areas of the competition field to score points. As the Robotics team cannot meet in person, Garbo explained that they will design a robot best fit to accomplish those tasks and submit their designs to be evaluated.

“Robotics is 100 percent student led. Our officers and captains are doing a great job organizing the online efforts,” Good said.

Robotics is 100 percent student led. Our officers and captains are doing a great job organizing the online efforts.”

— Robotics team Advisor Jason Good

Despite the sudden shift from in-person to a virtual environment, Garbo and other members express that the BVH Robotics team remains hopeful and are excited about what the future holds. Until then, the BVH Robotics team has been holding weekly officer meetings and club meetings have been planned to occur weekly as well. 

Although there is a lot of adjusting to do, I am looking forward to this year’s unique competition format,” Garbo said. “I am excited for the team to learn and develop new skills that they otherwise wouldn’t at in-person competitions all while being able to participate from home.”