Last week, Annie H. ’23, representing the Garrison Forest Robotics Team in the NYC Remote Qualifier, was awarded 1st place for the Think Award and 2nd place for the Performance Award—and will now advance to the NYC FTC Championship in late May!
The GFS Robotics team, called Bearly Awake, has persevered through challenges this year, finding ways to stay engaged and connected even while some of the members were on different continents. It’s a testament to the group’s love of robotics and dedication to the field.
“Bearly Awake has done tremendous work this year,” said the group's advisor, Jim Beam, an Upper School and Residential Life faculty member. “Our nine team members have operated as an international engineering and design team with students in both various parts of China and right here on campus at Garrison Forest School. The team has worked mornings and evenings on Saturdays (times convenient to both times zones) to bring two complete robots to competition. We have managed to have team meetings, share design ideas, control code, and fellowship literally across the world. Our team has now been able to compete in three remote competitions, bringing home three awards, and has advanced to the NYC Championship competition. Though complicated, it has been a very exciting year.”
Mr. Beam also noted that even the creation of the robots spanned the globe. One of the robots was built here in the GFS Maker Space, while another one was created in a lab in Shanghai that belongs to a Chinese FRC team who was kind enough to let the team borrow their facility during their off-season.
For the team, navigating the distance and technology was well worth it to continue working on something they enjoy so much.
“The truth is, time differences are nothing when you are passionate about something,” Annie said. “This year, I manage to enjoy my life and keep my academic performance while spending a large portion of my time on Robotics. On weekends, I usually spend the whole afternoon and evening at the workshop. On weekdays, I usually spend 4 hours in total writing codes and organizing engineering notebooks at home.”
Gabby C.'22, who is based here on the GFS campus, echoed those thoughts: "It was sort of weird because all of us would be awake at odd times in order to connect with our other teammates. I am naturally not an early riser so I remember setting my alarm for 8:55 labeled "I hate robotics" (not at all true!); However, as soon as I got up and joined the zoom, the relatively early hour no longer mattered and I was able to fully concentrate on what the coding team was doing."
The group holds weekly Zoom meetings where they connect and share their progress and accomplishments with one another, and then they continue individual work in their respective labs. Annie also manages a WeChat for the group, another way to stay in touch and up-to-date on one another’s projects. That sense of community is one reason the group works so well together and has been successful despite not being in the same place this year.
Amy L. '22 further explains how the team navigated communications challenges: "With half of our teammates in China and two different time zones, we decided that Zoom would be the best way to communicate. We set Saturday morning (9:00 AM US, 10:00 PM. China) as the Coding meeting time and Saturday night as the mechanic's team meeting time. The mechanic team will first build out the base as the coding team is getting familiar with the codes. Mr. Beam will tell the mechanic team where the coding team got to that morning and the mechanical team will work based on what the coding team accomplished. This schedule worked very well."
What kept the team going was a sense of mutual respect and excitement about the projects they were working on.
“I absolutely love my lovely teammates,” Annie said. “Even if we are remote this year, I can feel our passion for Robotics through my screen. We are very supportive of each other, and communicate super well even if most of us are in different places.”
For Annie, her journey to the Robotics team started with an interest in coding and hearing firsthand how exciting robotics at GFS could be. “I like coding a lot. I had some experiences in C++ and participated in coding competitions in middle school,” she said. “I also talked to a friend who was on this team during the 17-18 seasons. After she showed me pictures of their matches as well as their engineering notebooks, I was immediately drawn by it.”
From there, Annie found her interests expanding and deepening as she learned more about all that Robotics could offer and the many different disciplines that are involved.
“Last year when I first joined the team, I thought I would be on the coding side because of my experiences in coding. However, I want to push myself further, since coding is somehow within my comfort zone; also, I felt like there were already many people on the coding side, that the team would be more balanced if I am on the mechanical side. A year ago, mechanics was an area I didn't know much about, though I love the designing process. As a team, we help each other to grow and build on our knowledge. I have learned so much as part of the team, which enabled me to be constantly engaging while learning remotely this year. This year, I build and program most of a robot. It is a new challenge, but also really fun for me. Engineering has become my second favorite besides coding. Computer Science and engineering, two fields that are equally fascinating to me, collide here in the Robotics club.”
Gabby had a similar experience when she heard about the Robotics club during a Grizzly Gathering. Hearing more about what the club was doing intrigued her: "I knew that we had a robotics club but I wasn’t sure what was happening and if it was something that I wanted to be a part of," Gabby said. "Seeing that presentation really opened my eyes to the world of robotics and It seemed so interesting to me that I knew I wanted to be involved in it.”
Robotics is an exciting, interesting field for students with a lot of varied interests—and can help build unexpected skills. To those who may want to give it a try, Amy offered this encouragement: "Try it! it is normal that you don't know anything at first, but the name and purpose of each piece or part will come to you naturally as you get more involved in the building process. And remember, there are many teammates around you willing to help!”
Annie echoed that encouragement, saying, "Robotics isn't just about computer science and engineering. We need to have solid writing skills to record our works, take good notes of our progress, reach out to sponsors, and sometimes go and present our work to Lower and Middle Schoolers. This is the beauty of robotics – it provides everyone on the team a unique experience!”