Gearcat Robotics in Quarantine

Hemanth Tavane Shivakumar, Online Editor-in-Chief

The Gearcat robotics team at Clague middle school has changed a lot in the last six months, becoming an online-only class from an in-person class. There have been difficulties with having virtual classes and prepping for the First Tech Challenge (FTC).     

The  coach for the Gearcats Robotics team is Madhan Ramaswami. He is an engineer at Toyota and hopes to teach the next generation about the joys of engineering. 

My favorite part is seeing the growth of the team members from the beginning to the end of the competition and as they solve several difficult challenges during the season,” Ramaswami said. “This is a great opportunity for the students to learn about a stem field about something they can design and build.”

The Gearcats team meets virtually Wednesday’s 4-6 p.m., and from Sundays,6-8 p.m. , and it is parent-led. 

“It is very difficult to stay engaged because there are no parts and even at a point when there are no parts at all,” Ramaswami said. “We had 10 people regularly joining at the beginning to only five that joined regularly.

Ramaswami has been the head coach of the Gearcats team for five years. 

One of the members of the robotics team is Tarun Swaminathan. He is in 8th grade. He has been doing robotics for almost five years and has been part of the Gearcat robotics team since 2019.   

I like being a coach because I can teach the next generation to learn about the joys of engineering.  My favorite part about being a robotics coach is seeing the growth of the team members from the beginning to the end of the competition and as they solve several difficult challenges during the season,” Swaminathan said.  “Moving online wasn’t hard but it was just annoying.” 

Tim Watson, a 7th grader at the Ann Arbor Open, is also another Gearcat team member. He  has been doing robotics since 2018.

“It is a lot more confusing to know what the competitions are going to look like and how they are going to work,” Watson said. 

Every year, the Gearcats build a robot and program it to complete different challenges for the FTC. Due to the circumstances this year the team has to follow the honor code and report the score themselves.  

  “For robotics, we are having one or more students coming to the coach’s house to build or taking parts home to do it,” Ramaswami said. “For programming, we handed out the phones to people so they can identify old pieces of code we can reuse.”

The robotics team splits into two groups: One completes the building and one completes the programming. Each team member has to learn both of these jobs. 

“Some challenges  are shooting a ring into a goal, pushing a wobble goal to the end of the map and lifting the wobble goal over the side of the map,” Swaminathan explained. 

Although during these tough times, the Gearcat robotics team at Clague can’t work together in-person, Ramaswami does want you to leave with this, 

 “There is a lot to be learned about science and technology through the process of building a robot, programming it, preparing to present your ideas at the competitions,” Ramaswami explained. “The Gearcats team along with parents and mentors provides a great opportunity for middle school students to build fun robots and try out robotics ”