Robotics season canceled due to coronavirus after team qualifies for world championships

Sophia Krugler and Malia Wanderer

Nari, the robot built by Paly Robotics, successfully completes the climb at the Utah Regional competition on March 7, where the team won first place and earned a spot to compete in the FIRST World Championship. However, on March 12, FIRST canceled all competitions in order to prioritize health and safety in response to the coronavirus pandemic. “I think it’s a smart decision,” Liu said. “Robotics competitions are packed with people and often in close quarters.” Photo courtesy of Julian Kobayashi.

Despite winning a FIRST Robotics Competition regional event for the first time in 14 years, Paly Robotics will not attend the FRC World Championship, which was cancelled in response to the continued spread of COVID-19. 

The team competed at the Utah Regional competition from March 4 to March 7, and won first place, earning them a spot to compete in the FIRST World Championship in April in Houston, Texas. 

However, in an update published on its website on March 12, FIRST announced that it would suspend its season and cancel championship competitions in order to prioritize health and safety. 

Due to the Palo Alto Unified School District’s decision to cancel school through Spring Break, the team has also lost access to the robotics lab, according to senior and captain Lawrence Chang. However, Chang said the team is using the extra time to work on off-season projects and prepare for next season. 

“Teaching and training is going to be difficult without the robotics lab, but it can be started over the break,” Chang stated in an email to The Paly Voice. “The off-season robot is a good tool to prepare the new leads and get them accustomed to leadership and working with each other. Traditionally, the off-season robot has always been very behind, but this year the extra time may allow us to finish.”

According to team mentor and substitute teacher Merrilee Soohoo, the team started preparing for the competition on Jan. 4, known colloquially as “kick-off day,” when teams around the world receive rules and guidelines for the season. Soohoo said the team worked upwards of 200 hours a month leading up to the competition. 

“There were countless days where we worked late into the nights, going home at 12 a.m. with a test the next day,” senior Jason Liu, software captain and driver of the robot, said.

Soohoo said that although she is disappointed the season is canceled, she understands the decision.

“I think given the situation, it’s prudent to cancel or postpone events and gatherings such which have teams attending from all over the world and from many states,” Soohoo stated in an email to The Paly Voice. “Putting the safety and health of our team members and community as a top priority would be my focus.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated that Paly Robotics had not qualified for the FRC World Championship in 14 years. This is inaccurate; Paly Robotics qualified for the championships in 2006, 2008, 2016 and 2017.