The Palo Alto High School Robotics Team kicked off the school year last weekend by reaching quarterfinals at Chezy Champs, an off-season robotics competition.
Bellarmine College Preparatory hosted the tournament in San Jose, bringing 43 teams from across the West Coast together to determine which robot was “the best in the west,” according to the Chezy Champs website.
Senior Team Captain Devin Ardeshna said he was pleased with the team’s performance.
“We ended up being ranked ninth, which was pretty awesome,” Ardeshna said. “That’s the top 25th percentile of the best teams out here.”
Robotics Coach Christopher Kuszmaul was also impressed with the team’s achievement.
“Overall, I think we performed really well,” Kuszmaul said. “The students were really exceptional.”
Ardeshna explained that each robotics season, teams are given a game challenge with different tasks for robots to complete. The 2018 challenge will not be released until January, so at Chezy Champs, teams competed with robots from last year.
According to Build Captain Shota Yamamoto, robots for the 2017 challenge needed to shoot wiffle balls into a goal, place gear-shaped objects on pegs, and climb a rope during every match.
“What stood out about our robot was that it was really fast,” said Yamamoto. “It would just drive across the field really quickly.”
Teams formed alliances of three for each match. During the elimination rounds, Paly Robotics’ Team 8 allied with Castilleja High School’s Team 1700 and Valley Christian High Schools’ Team 3256.
Out of all the teams in attendance, Team 8 was the oldest, having been founded in 1996. According to junior Juliet Ablaza, a member of the local all-girls robotics team Space Cookies, Paly Robotics was assigned the number 8 when it was created.
“When the team is created they get their number, so the smaller the number, the older the team,” Ablaza said.
The highlight of the competition for Ardeshna, Yamamoto, and Kuszmaul was the team’s second match in quarterfinals against an alliance captained by Madtown Robotics, Team 1323.
“We were up against the team that eventually ended up being the finalists,” Ardeshna said. “Our robot just did everything it was supposed to do and we got as many points as possible, and we were able to win one match against them.”
According to Kuszmaul, the team’s execution of each maneuver in the match was very effective.
”I’m convinced that it was one of the best gearing performances of the entire season, worldwide,” Kuszmaul said.
Kuszmaul attributes much of Team 8’s success to the drive team, which is responsible for controlling the robot on the field.
“Our drive team did an outstanding job,” Kuszmaul said. “Eric Liu, who is also our software captain, performed brilliantly in that second match. He was out flying the robot across the field faster than I’ve ever seen a robot go.”
Ardeshna’s leadership at the tournament was another major factor in the team’s achievement, according to Kuszmaul.
“He did not impose his will on the team unduly, but he provided solid, credible, compassionate leadership for the team,” Kuszmaul said.
Team 8’s excellent record was a contrast to its previous performance at Chezy Champs three years ago.
“In 2014, we went to the same competition and we brought our 2014 bot,” Ardeshna said. “There were 34 robots there, and we came in 34th place.”
Despite the team’s impressive performance this year, according to Kuszmaul, there is still room for improvement regarding student interactions with adult mentors on other teams.
“We have a very student-run team,” Kuszmaul said. “Ironically, that means that when our students encounter an adult, they are not used to it … Our students learn how to stand up for their viewpoints with one another, but when they encounter an adult, they have trouble.”
Ardeshna hopes the team will have more time to practice to ensure that future matches run smoothly.
“The people operating and interacting with the robot were new because a lot of the seniors graduated last year, so they were still getting into the swing of things,” Ardeshna said.
Team 8 is hoping to continue its success by making it to the exclusive World Championships this spring, but Ardeshna said without last year’s seniors, doing so will be a challenge.
“We lost a lot of core seniors that were really important to our success last year,” Ardeshna said. “I think with a lot of hard work we can get there, but it’s going to require people filling in the gaps.”
Despite the loss of experienced members, Kuszmaul is confident that the team’s performance will remain strong as the year progresses.
“We’re ever closer to being able to describe ourselves as world-class,” Kuszmaul said.