The next steps for Paly Robotics

Arohi Bhattacharya, Senior Staff Writer

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story attributed incorrect grade levels and titles for some sources. These have since been updated.

Like other clubs at Palo Alto High School, the Paly Robotics team was forced to shut down in-person meetings and activities when PAUSD schools closed mid-March due to COVID-19. But despite that experience, the team is focusing on positives, including the recruitment of new team members, the return of a longtime coach, and tournament rules that will allow reusing their award-winning robot from last year.

For the 2020-21 school year, the team is unsure of what restrictions and permissions it will be allowed for the future regional competitions.

“We don’t know if FIRST will be holding events in the spring this year, nor do we know if the district will allow us to go on overnight trips,” co-captain senior Nina Hunt said. “[We anticipate that] FIRST might also hold a restricted event where only a couple people from a smaller number of teams can go to the venue.”

The optimistic spirit of the team is embodied by members like junior Xiaohan Li, captain of the program’s art subteam, who continued to work on the team’s design portraits over the summer with her fellow team members. 

Palo Alto High School’s robotics team’s robot Nari, its main robot for the 2019-20 school year, reaches to hook onto the horizontal metal bar, known as the generator switch, at the Utah Regional Competition in March. The team plans to use the same robot for the 2020-21 year. “Something unique about the 2021 season is that the game challenge is going to be the same as this past season, whereas there’s normally a new challenge created each year,” Technical Director Griffin Zajac said. “Because of this, we’ll be reusing our robot from this past season and making modifications and improvements to it.” Photo credit: Nina Hunt

“I’ve been working with the other art members in producing an offseason animation, an animation we create to experiment with new techniques and practice for our competition season animations during the year,” Li said. “We draft storyboards and create 3D models to activate and turn into animated shorts, which we submit to competitions hosted under the organization for our robotics league.”

Other subteams held multiple virtual workshops on coding and entrepreneurship skills. According to Hunt, they have begun its recruitment process for the year.

As always, we’re looking for interested, committed and enthusiastic recruits looking to make Paly Robotics an integral part of their high school experience,” build member junior Arundhati Parikh said in an email to The Paly Voice. “Even though recruitment will be remote this year, to us, this [having enthusiastic members] is far more important than being skilled or having prior experience with the team.”

The team additionally reintroduced Christopher Kuszmaul after a short leave as its leading coach, with Keith Worrell as its assistant coach. The new head mentor, Ed Law, serves as the team’s liaison for the other mentors.

“He [Law] also will be helping us attract and integrate new mentors to our team, and organize alumni mentors as well,” Hunt said. “He is invaluable to our team because of the industry and FRC experience he brings, which allows our team to perform at its highest potential.”

 The team’s win at the 2020 Utah Regional convention in early March qualified them for the FRC World Championship, which was cancelled along with other future competitions. 

It was really disappointing since qualifying for the world championships had been our goal for a long time, but we saw the effects of the pandemic across the world and understood that there was no way for the season to continue safely,” Technical Director senior Griffin Zajac said.

The team’s hopes for this year revolve around returning to an in-person environment safely, but is prepared for a full year virtually. 

My hope is just that we can get back to working on campus as soon as possible,” Li said. “The environment and community just aren’t the same for working at home. However, I think the team will do well even if we have to stay virtual for longer than what the proposed return is now, since we have a reliable system of communication and strong leadership to plan for any new circumstances that happen.”

To learn more about Paly Robotics and their recruitment process, click here.