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The Unique Inner Workings of M-A’s Robotics Team

3 mins read

During Club Rush, one table wows students year after year: M-A’s robotics team. Hauling out the big guns to impress possible new recruits, the club’s robot makes sharp spins and turns, coming alive at the fingertips of the driver, every portion of the bot handcrafted by students. Since 2001, M-A’s Team 766 has dedicated itself to being a fully student-run program aiming to make robotics accessible to all. Team 766 is split into seven specialized teams: design, manufacturing, assembly, electrical, and programming—who are involved in building the bot—and business and branding, who take care of finances, marketing, and outreach.

But firstly, what exactly does the robotics team do? Registered as the 766th school under First Robotics Competition (FRC), the coordinator of high school robotics competitions, Team 766 builds robots with specialized abilities to complete the unique tasks of each competition. The team is kicking into high gear in preparation for this year’s FRC, which poses fresh obstacles to design around. 

The building of the robot is managed by students interested in hands-on software and hardware engineering. Sophomore manufacturer Kapil Ayyar said, “[Competition themes] are like a problem you need to solve. Every robot is a solution and seeing the creativity used is really exciting.”

At competitions, junior assembler Luis Licea plays a major role as the main driver, maneuvering the robot to complete the necessary tasks. “I feel the need to do my best to say thanks for the team’s hard work,” he said. “When I first tried it, I was really good at it even though I didn’t have experience. One practice method I have is playing in a robot driving simulator.”

While robots take center stage in robotics, public relations and business play just as important of a role in keeping the team running, especially when it comes to financing. “Robots cost between $10,000-$15,000,” said senior business president Connor Cheng. “There’s also a buy-in fee for competitions which costs almost as much as the robot itself, so one competition costs around $20,000, not including travel fees. Expenses are handled by independent parent donations and sponsors. We apply for big sponsors like Google and Lockheed Martin through FRC which require writing grant applications.”

“We’re very fortunate to have a program where we can cultivate skills about how companies interact with a community for practical experience,” he continued. “Outside of engineering, there’s a big emphasis on practical writing, economics, and communications to secure sponsors.” 

Team 766’s marketing is also handled by students. Junior Leviathan Padwick from the branding team gave a rundown, saying, “We work on merchandise and we’re in charge of how we present ourselves at schools, competitions, and possible sponsors. We also make pins to hand out at competitions which is a big part of competition culture. It’s something fun to engage in because competitions can be really stressful. We can show off our branding skills and also see the cool designs other teams have made.” 

At the core of Team 766’s ideals is accessibility. In many high schools, particularly in private schools, robotics teams are selective. Senior programming specialist Lydia Honerkamp explained, “Public schools consistently do worse than private schools in competitions. In some private schools, you’re required to take classes on robotics before joining, and well-performing teams often have applications where not everyone will make it onto the team. Something we take pride in in our team is that anyone can join.” 

Students with more experience bear the responsibility of training freshly joined rookies. To give them hands-on practice, Team 766 created Mechanical M-Ayhem, a small-scale competition taking place every December specifically for rookies. It has now expanded into a local event, drawing in teams from all over the Bay. Junior manufacturer Heidi Chen said, “The rookie competition was really fun, and staying until midnight finishing our robot is one of my favorite memories. It was rewarding to work as a team and know that we built that robot.”

With the strong student-to-student connections fostered, members noted the close bonds of the team community. Chen said, “Initially, my coding teacher told me robotics was looking for members, and I thought I might as well join. After joining, I really liked the community here which is what made me stay.” 

Sophomore programmer Max Spier said, “I was scared to join, but once we got past rookie training, it was amazing the things I was able to do. I was never able to have experiences like working with mentors who code for big projects like autonomous vehicles. The team is incredible, and it’s why I keep coming to every meeting.” 

Team 766 is supported by 16 mentors who volunteer their time to assist students with their experience in engineering and programming. Cheng said, “They give insight into the direction of the team, but they’re not necessarily teachers who are there to drive the team. They also handle where our sponsorship money goes since the adults can actually manage and use the money.” 

 “For M-A students, we don’t have the opportunity to take classes for the skills robotics can teach you,” Cheng said. “Things like electrical engineering, communications, and even marketing, you don’t have any of that in school. But if you go to robotics, you can get that experience, instruction, and mentorship. There’s no limit to what kinds of experiences you can get out of robotics, it’s just what you make of it.” Students interested in fields such as engineering, coding, business relations, and marketing design are welcome to join the team year-round with no experience necessary. Meetings are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with no strict attendance requirements. Contact team766robotics@gmail.com to join or learn more.

Leehan is a senior and this is her first year in journalism. She finds interest in fashion, the arts, and M-A’s diverse student life.

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