by guest correspondent, Ruirui Huang (Annie) '23

Robotics 2022

(Left to right: Bruna Lu '24, Annie Huang '23, Caelyn Ruiz '23)


"This is a team that Garrison Forest should be truly proud of. Hard work and persistence are second nature to this team."
—James Beam, coach of Bearly Awake and the chair of the Math Department at GFS

GFS Robotics Team advances to Chesapeake District Championship

HAMPTON COLISEUM, Virginia —On April 9, 2022, the Upper School Robotics team competed and performed phenomenally in the FIRST Chesapeake District Championship! 

Standing at the venue was in and by itself an impressive achievement. Out of 266 teams from our District, only 80 teams qualified for the District championship, an extremely selective process given the competitiveness of the Chesapeake Region.

"Under the direction of Annie '23 and Bruna '24, our robotics team had a year where they really stepped up their game. Our team competes in a season that runs from September, until, normally, February, and this year, having made the District Championships, April,” said Mr. Beam.

The path to the Championship: award-winning, innovative control systems

Before earning a spot at the Chesapeake District Championship, the GFS Robotics team (which goes by the name Bearly Awake, due to their penchant for late nights and early mornings on qualifier days!) attended two qualifiers and ranked in 6th place at the 2nd Remote Event of Virginia, successfully advancing to the Championship.

Although most members are new to the team, Bearly Awake was the Control Award Winner at Laurel 3 and VA Remote 2 qualifying tournaments, an unprecedented achievement in GFS history. Even at the District championship, where the most competitive teams gathered, GFS’ control system ranked among the top level.

Bearly Awake was also recognized by the judges as a team that embodies important values of the FIRST program. The Control Award, sponsored by Arm, Inc, celebrates the team that demonstrates innovative thinking in the control system to solve game challenges such as autonomous operation, enhancing mechanical systems with intelligent control, or using sensors to achieve better results on the field. 

Bearly Awake introduces AI recognition

Annie Huang '23, the team captain since last year, was the designer of this year's control system. For the first time, she incorporated Artificial Intelligence (AI)  recognition during the autonomous period using a machine learning algorithm. Furthermore, she introduced the concept of Teleop Automation into the control system, which is the idea of having autonomous control replacing some human control. With a color sensor, two distance sensors, and a navigation webcam, the team drastically reduced human errors and increased the score by 30%.

For example, her design of two distance sensors on the back of the robot is inspired by the parking assist system in modern automobiles, which significantly reduced the chance of bumping into the alliance shipping hub (a three-level shelf built upon a wobble,) which was an issue for many teams.

Robotics 2022_Annie

(Software maintenance the day before competition; Annie Huang '23)

Team triumphs at Championship thanks to strategic operations

April 9th, 2022 —Bearly Awake was barely awake at 5:30 am. At 6:30 am, the team has already loaded the robot and equipment into the pit area at the competition venue.

This year’s competition theme was called “Freight Frenzy.” In order to win, teams needed to build and guide a robot which would “successfully navigate a complex transportation system by traversing barriers and racing against time to load and deliver essential items to those who need them most,”  according to FIRST Tech Challenge. 

For each match, four teams are randomly assigned into two sides, with two on the "red alliance" and two on the "blue alliance." At around 8:00 am, the scouting members went around the pits and communicated strategies with alliance teams. Since the alliance teams have to share the same side of the game field, communication is crucial to avoid conflicts.

Robotics 2022

(Discussing strategy after scouting; left to right: Annie Huang '23, Audrey Huang '25)

When the scouting members came back with results of negotiations, the captain had to make a quick judgment on how to modify the existing code to maximize the scores for the alliance and avoid potential interference. Thanks to Sunny '24 and Audrey '25's efforts in scouting, the Team successfully went through all five matches without any significant incidents.

Our students are learning both technical and organizational skills. They have over this year truly gelled into a team of highly talented, knowledgeable aspiring engineers and designers, ” Mr. Beam reflected after the game.

Bearly Awake outwits an attack

During the matches, only the drive teams (Annie '23, Bruna '24), the human player (Caelyn '23), and the team media manager (Kelly Nie '25) were allowed in the “game zone.” Months of late nights and practice paid off, as the drive team flawlessly completed one task after another with a level of mastery.

Among five qualifying matches, the second match was the most spectacular one. Within the first 30 seconds of the autonomous period, the robot performed a series of object identification, carousel delivery and cargo delivery, and eventually parked smoothly within the storage unit, earning 50 points for the alliance.

The 120-second driver-controlled period was even more legendary. When the GFS robot were heading into the warehouse to pick up boxes for delivery, one robot from the other alliance malignly blocked the narrow pathway—— a thirteen inch wide gap on the side of the game field.

Without hesitation, the drive team quickly changed the strategy and decided to take a more perilous and riskier route to the warehouse ——going over the barriers. The barrier is three inches high (really high for a 18 inches robot) and really bumpy; Without a robust chassis, there would be a high chance of utter destruction of the robot.

Fortunately, this “worst case scenario” had been foreseen and the chassis was stable enough to directly cross over the barrier in times of emergency. The blockade did not interfere much with our performance, and the Blue Alliance won tremendously by 197:95!!!

Unprecedented success for GFS

In all, GFS won 4 out of 5 of its qualifying matches, only losing to the #1 team in the last round. Stepping up as a team under such challenging circumstances, we placed 17th among 40 highly competitive teams that showed up at the April 9 District Championship.

The team hasn't made it to the District championship for a long time,” said Bruna, a current Sophomore and the co-captain of the robotics team, “and that is one of the reasons why we were not chosen as allies in the play-off rounds.” Looking forward to the next season, Bruna believes that the team should put self-advocacy and strengthening connections with other strong teams as one of the top priorities.

"We are a group of STEM-loving girls. The story of us is more than a club: it is about teamwork, curiosity, perseverance, and about re-birth through hard times —Our story is more than robots,” said Annie.

Robotics team

(Team Photo, Barely Awake 2897)

Check out these videos compiled by Annie '23 and Bruna '24!

Bearly Awake: Robot Review
Bearly Awake: Chesapeake District Championship


Writing: Ruirui Huang (Annie) '23

Team media manager: Chuhan Nie (Kelly) '25