On February 16, the Belmont Citizen-Herald published an article called “Putting the ‘robot’ in robotics” (link below), where they talked about the Belmont Robotics Team, which was founded a few months ago. While the article was very informative and to-the-point, I felt as though it portrayed the team in a rather cold and boring light. So I decided to go and pay them a visit to see for myself.
In the article, it describes the team as “a gaggle of teenagers bustling about, engaging in intense conversations rife with technical jargon, busily tinkering with motors and pistons and joysticks.” From what I witnessed in two hours or so, this description is very inaccurate. For one thing, their usage of words like “intense” and “busily” paint a very serious and professional scene. This is not at all what I saw. What I saw was a bunch of kids having a good time building stuff; side conversations were frequent, there was horsing around, and sometimes it seemed like more attention was paid to snacks than robots. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to say they spent all their time goofing off — on the contrary, they seemed to get more work done in 30 minutes than most people I know could do in a day — but the Citizen-Herald’s mechanical depiction of them does not express how much fun the team members have while working together. They are productive because they were having fun and not because of deadlines or anxiety.
The article also failed to highlight how much most of the team members are willing to put on the line for their cause. They are entered in a competition where they had to finish building a robot by February 21st (I observed them on the 17th). In the days leading up to the deadline, many team members worked on the robot from after school until 3:00 AM! Keep in mind that many of these students are taking AP classes. That really shocked me, as I’ve never been able to stay up past 1:30. And they did not do this because they were forced to, they just really wanted the team to succeed.
Another thing that surprised me was the culture of the team. The Belmont Robotics Team is more like the football team than it is like other school clubs, such as the Model UN. “It’s more of a team dynamic than a club dynamic because you all kinda work together towards the same goal and prepare for a competition,” said Faizan Sayeed, one of the team’s marketers. They also seem to be much more egalitarian than other school clubs and teams, by which I mean there was no visible social hierarchy when I observed them. Everyone on the Robotics Team seems to have an equal say in everything and they all did their jobs happily. When I asked the team’s cofounder Jack Doyle — who was tragically not mentioned alongside the other cofounders Sepehr Sokhanvar and Niel Mhatre in the Citizens-Herald article — who was in charge of the team, he replied “It doesn’t matter, only colleges care about stuff like that.”
As stated in the Citizens-Herald, the team is currently putting all their effort into winning the international competition called FIRST Robotics, but they have many plans for the future. One thing they said they want to do is community outreach. “I know the Belmont Hill team goes and teaches engineering stuff at Butler. We were thinking of doing something like that,” Faizan said.
However, everyone on the team stressed that the most important thing on their agenda after the competition was becoming legitimate to the school. Because BHS does not have sufficient space or resources, the team has not been able to get its support, which puts them at a huge disadvantage. One reason for this is that without school backing they are forced to take thousands of dollars out of their own pockets to stay afloat. Also, without a place to work a school, they are forced to do all their robot construction in Jack’s garage.
If you want to see them for yourself, they will be hosting an outreach event this Wednesday March 8th at the Beech St center from 12:00pm to 4:00pm. Presentations will officially start at 12:45pm. They will be showing off their most recent robot and what it does.