Team Inspiration RoboSub competitors include (back row, from left) Eric Silberman, Ashiria Goel, Pahel Srivastava, Ashika Palacharla, Raina Shapur, (middle row, from left) Eesh Vij, Rishi Veerepalli, Noah Tang, Aditya Mavalankar, Ilan Cosman, Colin Szeto, (front row, from left) Shreyas Rangan, Shruti Natala and Mabel Szeto. (photo by Teresa To)
Robotics team impresses at RoboSub event
A Scripps Ranch-based robotics team of high school and middle school students surprised many, including maybe themselves, with a strong showing in a recent robotic submarine competition that pitted them against teams from some of the country’s top colleges.
Team Inspiration, which included members from Scripps Ranch High School and other area schools, finished 13th in the 22nd annual International RoboSub Competition, held July 29-Aug. 4 at Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific Transducer Evaluation Center in Point Loma. The team also captured the event’s Most Inspirationalaward and an Innovation Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
RoboSub is an international underwater robotics competition in which college and high school students design and build self-driving vehicles to navigate through a series of tasks. Team Inspiration was the only high school/middle school team from the San Diego region that participated in the 2019 RoboSub competition. A total of 59 teams participated, with all but four teams being from top universities around the world. The local students bested teams such as the California Institute of Technology, the Georgia Institute of Technology, UC Berkeley, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, San Diego State University and the University of Southern California.
“I assume a lot of college students weren’t very happy,” said Team Inspiration coach Alex Szeto. “They must be wondering ‘How did we lose to such a young team?’”
Robots had to perform a number of tasks of increasing complexity. This included passing through an underwater gate (with style points offered for doing spins or rolls), touching specific pictures on buoys, picking up an object in the water and dropping it in a box, and opening and closing a sliding door. All of the tasks had to be done in under 15 minutes.
“Even the best teams in the world can’t complete all the missions,” Szeto said. “When you build the robot, you have to decide what you have the best chance of completing, which ones bring the most points. So, there is a lot of strategy.”
Students do all the work from design, building and operation of the robot submarines, according to Szeto. Only 25 percent of the work can be done by a coach or mentor, and those points don’t count. Szeto, an aerospace engineer, has coached the team and hosted weekly lab sessions in his Scripps Ranch garage since his own kids got interested in robotics about nine years ago. In addition to robot building and competition activities throughout the year, Team Inspiration also attends outreach events to spread their love of robotics, and uses modern video and computer technology to teach other school-based robotics teams around the world.
Team Inspiration’s co-captains are twin siblings Colin and Mabel Szeto, Del Norte High School students who have both been involved with robotics for nine years. Both found the RoboSub experience to be a rewarding and memorable one.
“As we’re a rookie team in the RoboSub aspect, it’s been really impactful to see the team bond and work together in order to complete such a complex task,” Colin said.
Mabel focused on keeping the project organized and moving forward. She noted that the sub included multiple cameras as well as sensors so the robot could figure out its position and how to complete tasks.
“It’s not only more mechanically challenging, it’s very difficult to program a robot that moves underwater because it is so different from what we’ve done in the past, which are land robots,” she said.