Written by Sarah Kim ‘19
On Feb. 19, DARC SIDE, the Durham Academy Robotics Club: Students in Design and Engineering, worked until midnight to put the finishing touches on their robot for the 2018–2019 robotics season.
“That’s a tradition,” said senior Tigey Jewell-Alibhai. “All the teams do it because you’re required to stop building on the last day of build season, but you can go all the way up to midnight. It’s a tradition for teams to stay until midnight to stop building, and that gives us just a little bit of extra time to finalize everything.”
Only six weeks prior, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the organization that runs the competitions, had released the layout of the game arena, on which teams base the design of their robot.
“The day before our six weeks allotment starts, there’s a reveal. It’s an online stream, and you get to see the game in its full, and that’s also the time the game manual is released,” said Jewell-Alibhai.
For the past few years, the Upper School’s DARC SIDE has hosted the kickoff. On Jan. 5, the first day of the build season, robotics teams came from all over the North Carolina to watch the livestream of the game reveal in Kenan Auditorium.
And then the work began on DARC SIDE’s robot, Backfire, named for the mechanism of intaking objects from the front and shooting them out the back.
During build days, the robotics team divides up into smaller subteams, each working on their area of expertise. The mechanical team constructs the physical structures of the robot, the electrical team weaves the wiring and the programming team is responsible for the coding, an essential aspect of the robot’s self-navigation. One unique aspect of Backfire is the elevator, which carries a ball up and down via a mix of mechanical and electrical engineering.
But the robotics team is not just disparate sum of parts.
“Some people who have been on the team for a long time just specialize in one thing because they’re really good at it, but other people who also have a lot of experience do multiple things,” said sophomore Emma Rossilli.
Rossilli is a new member of DARC SIDE. She works under the guidance of more experienced members, receiving instruction and gaining experience as she goes. But, fresh minds contribute invaluable ideas as well.
“I’m just observing,” she said. “But especially this year, a lot of the new people were in charge of brainstorming for certain tasks that a robot needed to do.”
Rossilli is not someone you would expect to be on the robotics team. She is a student of ballet, and she considers her saut de chat with pride and shows it off whenever she gets the chance.
“A lot of people think that all the people on the robotics team are nerds,” said Rossilli. “And I think that everyone is really a nerd about something. We’re just nerds about different things. You can be a nerd about sports and that’s all you talk about, and you can be a nerd about something else. But it’s really up to you.”
DARC SIDE will take Backfire to their first competition on March 9, a culmination of the hard work of all the moving parts of the team — not just the mechanical, electrical and programming, but also the media, fundraising and outreach teams.