What I actually woke up to was an early 6 o’clock scream from the alarm that many know all too well. It was a crisp fall morning in New England and rather than sit on the beach, I started to prepare myself for the long day ahead. No, not a football game, or lacrosse, or even rugby; it was the first offseason robotics competition of the year. Three years of persistence and determination, while throwing myself at any project I could work on, led me to finally obtain the position of driver, a position I sought to be in since the beginning of my robotics experience.
So, after preparing and then heading out on the hour and a half drive, I arrived at a Massachusetts high school gymnasium fueled on iced coffee and the anticipation about the day to come. I walked in among the forty or so other teams also there to compete and could not help but feel unprepared. I had fairly little practice as the driver in a real competition and all of my fellow students who learned about the robot with me had left the previous summer for college.
Regardless of my inexperience, the start of the competition was inevitable. I took my place behind the white line and prepared myself with a combination of excitement and dread. The fifteen second timer seemed to last forever as I waited for the robot to complete its autonomous tasks.
Finally, the buzzer sounded. I grabbed the controls and suddenly felt nothing but confidence in my ability and my team. During the regular season, we performed excellently due to both our remarkable robot design and our skillful previous drive team. I knew we would achieve success. We had to. I realized then that my teammates depended on me just as much as I depended on them to design, build, and program a strong robot.
After our first victory, we proceeded to win the rest of the following matches and ended with a 12-0 win record and a first-place trophy. I looked at my celebrating teammates and though I felt the exact same joy they did, I kept my composure thinking that any slight turn of events could have easily caused us a loss; I wanted to appear humble and gracious. However, I was not unappreciative. Though relieved, celebrating also seemed premature as we had more competitions ahead.
Robotics has always reminded me of my younger days and my favorite toys, LEGOs. The configurable building blocks fascinated me, and through them, I developed my creative and innovative mind. When my parents gave the seven-year-old me my first set of LEGOs, I built the set to its designated completion that very day (of course). But then, in the following days, after admiring my work, I dismantled it, then innovated and created an original design. This was my pastime during my childhood. Design, build, innovate, repeat.
I had no idea then, that I discovered the engineering design process at seven, but even now, and with no shame, I occasionally unearth my old LEGOs and create a new concept.
Today, I can only imagine what my childhood self would say if he only knew what kind of projects I was working on now. If he only knew how I design, create, and innovate almost everyday and how all of those years of exercising my creativity finally paid off. The only thing that I think he could say is this must be a dream.
But this time, it wasn’t.