What Could Have Been – Robotics 2020


Photo Credit: Ryan Jackson

On the chilly, sunny morning of January 4, the students and mentors Cistercian’s robotics team 6672 Fusion Corps gathered at Texas Instruments to watch the reveal for this year’s competition, “Infinite Recharge.” The game involved launching small, yellow dodgeballs known as Power Cells into a goal eight feet in the air! At the end of the match, robots had to climb onto an inverted switch and balance with their alliance partners. This game design posed several new challenges to Fusion Corps, especially on how to launch the cells accurately and from long distances.

Despite these new tasks, the team rose to the occasion with stunning success. Over nine long, grueling weeks of brainstorming, prototyping, CADing, building, and testing, each member learned about engineering, programming, business, and leadership as they helped to complete the most advanced robot in the team’s history. A working chassis, painted black in honor of the school and team colors, had been competed within the first week. With the aid of digital, 3D CAD models and our new CNC router and lathe, the robot not only functioned more precisely, but also looked better than ever before. While the software team worked on programming new, state-of-the-art motors, members of the build team tested designs and completed the practice field, where our drive team would be trained, and the robot, named Parsec, would be perfected.

After a week of practicing in the gym and finalizing the robot, the team loaded up our tools and the robot and journeyed to Plano Senior High for our first competition. And our efforts payed off; the robot and our strategy did not disappoint. After loosing a match to a previous world champion (as well as another match where the robot was unfortunately hit off course by one of our alliance partners), the team began to dominate our opponents and skyrocket up the leader board. Despite some stressful mechanical issues which were fixed in the 30-minute lunch break, Fusion Corps was ranked second at the end of the first day (behind another previous world champion who helped us win the Dallas competition last year).

The second day off competition saw us upset the powerful Titans from Plano with the help of our future playoff alliance partner, team Pearadox. This win bolstered our position at second place, where we ranked at the end of qualification matches. During the playoffs, with the help of our high-scoring autonomous code, our skilled driver and human player, and the tournament’s only triple climbs (every robot on our alliance climbed the switch at the same time – and we did this twice!), we quickly won our quarter- and semifinal matches to launch ourselves into the finals. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts we could not surmount the immense scoring power of the first-seeded alliance, which had both world champions on it. Nonetheless, we were content to receive silver medals and the Creativity Award for our efforts. These accomplishments gave us a lot of district points towards qualifying for the state and world championships. At the end of the day, we were ranked 15th out of nearly 200 teams in the state. We returned to school with several plans for how to improve our robot for the upcoming Dallas competition, in hopes that next time, the champion’s banner would be ours.

It was not meant to be. Later that week, Cistercian let out for an early spring break in response to the COVID-19 epidemic. However, our tournament had not yet been cancelled, and so we continued to prepare the robot. Then it all started to fall apart – our competition was still to go on without spectators, until officials decided later that day to postpone all regular season events and cancel the World Championship in Houston. We were heartbroken, especially to see all the hard work, dedication, and perseverance go to waste. To brighten our spirits a little, part of the team moved many of the tools, as well as the robot and practice field, to software captain Winston Hartnett’s house so that he could continue to program the robot.

Our season may be over – just as everyone else’s sports, quiz bowl, and theater seasons. But our hard work, our dedication, our heart has not gone to waste. Nothing has been forgotten. Though what could have been will never be seen or known, what lies in our hearts is an experience, a new understanding, a wisdom that we shall never forget. To all the students who feel down and lost in these trying times, especially to the seniors who have waited years for this grand finale of high school: keep your heads held high. While we may not be able to celebrate our extracurricular (or for that matter, any) accomplishments, at least in the near future, know that we have already accomplished and grown so much. The true measure of success is how we stand up and come back from adversity.

And so I will end with one last word: fight on. Overcome this setback. Return from the dark fear of disappointment we all feel now to a world that is made better by us. We will all be back, so have faith, have hope, and stay healthy.