Robotics returns to virtual build season

Team Sprocket has geared up and is ready to get back to business, following the Jan. 9 kickoff for the 2021 FIRST robotics virtual build season.

Since the team can’t meet in-person to build the robot due to COVID-19 restrictions, Team Sprocket is focusing on the design aspect of the competition and participating in virtual activities, such as the Innovation Challenge and Game Design Challenge.

“In terms of preparation, we [did] a mock build season first semester, so I’m confident that my members have the skills and experience to go into an actual virtual build season,” senior captain Jacob Zhi said via messenger.

Like other extracurriculars at Diamond Bar High School, Team Sprocket has had to transition to digital communication for the preseason. Members meet using Zoom and Discord, with each division working to educate new members and keep up with their own respective projects for build season.

Since this year’s season will be virtual, we’ve had a mock build season and have been teaching the engineering portion of the team how to CAD [computer aided design] by using various CAD exercises,” sophomore Kinslee Yu said. “I expect that we, as a team, will be focusing on passing down the knowledge from the upperclassmen to the underclassmen, through our various team projects.”

The team has been using CAD software to draft and design 3D models and subsystems for their robot this year as they have in the past, even if they may not be able to create the bot in real life. Senior Benjamin Wu, a CAD lead, stated in a blog post on the robotics website that converting the learning material to a virtual format was simple since the program was already mostly computer-based.

“[We used] Google Classroom to assign work and GrabCAD to submit part and assembly files,” Wu said. “Our team’s transition has proven to be quite effective, as members can quickly join a call with a lead or another experienced member and screen share their models to diagnose any issues they might be running into.”

To better integrate their new members, the Operations team has been hosting workshops about topics they would have had the chance to learn in person, such as event planning and finance. Additionally, the business subteam has been preparing an entry for the chairman’s award competition, publicizing team events, sharing progress updates and fundraising.

We plan to add additional projects and work, such as more outreach, to increase our community involvement,” senior Bella Licea, the Operations lead, said via Facebook messenger. “We also were concerned about our outreach efforts, however, we researched many at-home workshops and hope to share them with the community this season.”

According to Licea, Team Sprocket has had difficulty raising funds since they are restricted from hosting or attending in-person events and workshops to meet potential sponsors. However, the team has managed to use their blog posts, and social media to boost their publicity. 

Mentor Kenneth Wah and Coach Ezrie McCurry, both alumni of the team, mentioned the complexities of moving to a virtual platform and discussed the future development of the team during quarantine via a blog post.

Although there have been many setbacks, I do believe that we will take away many positives from this school year,” McCurry said. “You can’t just go grab a part or mechanism that you’re thinking of to demonstrate what you are trying to explain. Instead, you have to find other ways to articulate what you mean, and that is a very valuable skill to have.” 

The team is moving forward with plans for this build season’s robot and improving inter-team communication by reducing the distance between the engineering and business sub-teams.

“During a typical year we’d spend a lot of time together at a physical meeting, but this year due to the COVID pandemic we’re meeting a lot less. And that definitely affects morale somewhat but I think that our members still definitely are connecting,” Zhi said. “While I know we may not be able to meet in person for much, I’m still confident in the ability for our members to learn and have fun.”