Skunkworks struggles leading to overcome difficulty

RAHS Skunkworks Robotics Team has had an eventful year; for the first time in its history they didn’t make the cut for a place in the World Championship, instead were allowed to compete solely due to their early placement on a waitlist.


Working for the design sub-team, sophomore Tucker Bowlin is responsible for drafting the robot from the prototyping stage all the way through preparing to compete. Bowlin is one of many members of the robotics team who have found the team’s performance this year to be very disappointing.


“Our season hasn’t been going so well, we just barely got into the World Championship because we put ourselves on a waitlist a few months ago,” said Bowlin. “There are a number of reasons why we didn’t do so well, there were technical issues with our robot–it wasn’t the exactly the best we’ve ever built.”


Beyond technical issues, Bowlin also points to weaknesses in team structure that explain its poor performance this year.


“We didn’t really have a good leadership structure, and individual sub-teams didn’t talk with each other as much as they should have,” said Bowlin. “It was mainly a communication issue that slowed us down in finishing our robot and working out its bugs.”


Despite feelings of disappointment in the team, senior and robotics team member Lauren K Smith paints a more positive picture of the team’s performance, and doesn’t think the team should put much stock in comparing itself to its previous years.


“The robot has gotten much better and we’re in the sweet spot where, because the game involves alliances of three robots, we can still get spot on a really good alliance with other people,” said Smith. “Lots of people have been super pessimistic because we’ve qualified for Worlds every year, but we’ve really been doing pretty good this year considering the time we lost early on from prototyping issues and such.”


Senior Sydney Gardner, also a member of Skunkworks, agrees with Smith, pointing to a particularly unique game this year that has kept the RAHS robotics team from dominating the field like usual.


“It’s also been a much easier game this year in a lot of ways, so rookie teams that don’t usually perform well have done much better,” said Gardner. “It’s not so much that we’re doing bad as it is that everyone else is doing unusually good. Several other really excellent teams are experiencing the same thing.”


Regardless of their outlook on the season, Skunkworks members agree that this season has been very different from others, with many challenges and lessons learned.


“This year is the first year the seniors on the team had to go through a year FTC before they could join Skunkworks, so this has been our third year in robotics instead of our fourth,” said Smith, “and I think that means we have a little less experience and confidence leading the team than previous years did.”


The Robotics team can expect even more changes in coming years, though: as transitions in class scheduling change the way the team meets, Gardner anticipates more need to adjust.


“I think the team dynamic will change as the team changes next year too, when robotics becomes a class rather than an afterschool club,” said Gardner.


Despite not upholding the record of past years, the robotics team had fun this season, conquering many new obstacles.
“We went to more events than usual,” said Smith. “We did three district events, and as goes with most years that Skunkworks has existed, we get better as we go.”

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