The Paly Voice

Still on "Square One"

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A sea of spectators screams their rage or joy, as in the days of the gladiator, while the contenders fight tooth and nail in the arena below. 
No holds are barred – opponents wield spikes, pneumatic hammers, even flame-throwers.  And if your entrant loses a limb or two?  Well, there’s always next year’s robot.

This year, with approximately 20 freshman recruits and a variety of new and different competitions, the Paly robotics team has great potential for growth and change.

“This year, there are three possible projects: Botball, Sozbots and FIRST,” said senior Jos Goble, head of the robotics build team.

The chief project for the robotics team each year is the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics competition.  “FIRST is why the robotics club was originally founded in 1996,” Goble said.  In 2004, the FIRST challenge required robots to activate a ball-release autonomously during a fifteen second period, manipulate large rubber balls in several ways, and hang from a pull up bar in the center of the arena.  Competing bots had only two minutes to complete the tasks before the match ended.  Last year in FIRST, the Paly Robotics team came in 73rd out of 73 competitors – dead last – with their robot “Square One."  “I believe we overextended our capabilities and crumbled,” Goble said.

The next competition, Botball, takes a different direction entirely.  According to, “The game is played on a 4’X8’ board where robots score points by placing various game objects in scoring position.  Robots use no remote control and are programmed by students.”  “Botball is a programmer-oriented competition,” said junior Leonardo Franchi, head of the robotics programming division, “which is why we haven’t done it before.  Most of the people are more interested in FIRST because we don’t have many programmers.  One of the advantages of Botball is that it’s cheaper.  The entry to one FIRST regional is
$5,000; Botball, including all the things you need, is $2,300.”

Many people have heard of or seen BattleBots, the event in which contestants painstakingly plan and construct their bots, and then use them to destroy other bots in a matter of minutes.  SozBots, a division of BattleBots, is similar but with one small difference: the robots are smaller.  According to,
“SozBots is a single weight-class competition consisting of sixteen oz. remote controlled robots… The event is a double elimination format with a robot melee afterwards. The double elimination events are two minutes long and either knockout or judges’ points will decide a winner.”

The club’s projects for the year are frequently limited by their budget. Juniors Sophie Orr and Polly Ziegler, members of the public relations division of the robotics team, are particularly aware of this.  “We deal with travel money, entry money, shipping money, merchandise, supplies…” Orr said.  “We have to research companies and then send out P.R. packets.”

“We show them [the companies] that we are a good opportunity to learn,” Ziegler said.  “We’ve been sponsored by NASA, ROP, Intel, Sun… parents are also really helpful.”

“I estimate about 15-20 new freshman in robotics club this year,” Goble said. “Some leave eventually – the good ones usually stick around.  Robotics is a very time-consuming club, but it’s definitely worth it overall.”

For those interested in the robotics club, they meet on Tuesdays in the Engineering Tech building.

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