Bots compete at high school summer camp

Jul 15, 2022

Robots designed by some of Dartmouth's youngest engineers were put to a high stakes test Friday. 

Their task? To rescue a castaway from a shipwreck in the Dartmouth High engineering lab as part of this year’s robotics workshop.

The annual camp consists of kids in fifth through eighth grade who design and build remote-controlled bots over the course of four days. High school students were there to assist when needed.

“It’s amazing — kids are literally designing an entire robot,” said club president Nayan Bala. “It’s insane. I don’t think I could do that in just four days — and I’m about to become a senior.”

To end the camp, teams have their creations compete by playing “Coastal Cleanup,” a game and course designed by members of the high school team. 

The objective of the game is to clean up cargo boxes from the “river,” along with trying to rescue a castaway placed precisely in the center of the course. There are also two rubber ducks that, if moved from their spots, result in point deductions.

“We don’t want to disturb the wildlife,” Bala said.

Winning the competition was the team Mavrik — a nod to the latest Top Gun movie, team member William Roy noted.

The 13-year-old said it took a lot of collaboration with teammates Dalton Silvia and Jace Chabes to build their winning bot. At first, the trio tried to give the robot an arm to grab the cargo and castaway, but the team could never get it to work.

Another idea was to attach a claw, but Silvia recalled how he used that design last year only to end up in second place. 

“We must have gone through 100 designs,” Roy said.

After further collaboration, the team settled on their final design: mounting a curved bar on the bot’s servo motor that could scoop in boxes from the “river.”  

Stoppers were then added to the front of the robot to ensure the cargo blocks wouldn’t slip under the remote-controlled automaton.

“It was probably the easiest design, but it worked,” Roy said.

While the competition signals the end of this year’s camp, Bala said the team is already looking ahead to a bigger camp in 2023. Sessions are free for all kids who are interested in robotics.

“Science is for everyone,” Bala said with a smile.