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Off to Mars

As I walk up to the garage, Nathan and a robotics coach are sorting Mars Rover parts. In case you missed it, Perseverance, the fifth Mars Rover, landed on Mars February 18th, 2021. NASA’s Jet Propulsion (JPL) has created an open source, smaller version of the Mars Rover and Nathan was sorting parts in preparation for BCM high school robotics students to begin building their own rover this summer.

Nathan, when not sorting Mars Rover parts, is finishing up his sophomore year at Tide Academy in Menlo Park. He has been a part of BCM robotics programs since 5th grade and has loved the transition from Lego robotics to FRC (First Robotics Competition). “It was exciting to switch – it was way more amazing and fun to actually build our own robot with metal parts, to learn how to use new tools, safety, electronics, watts, power. Engineering a robot was really fun.”

Nathan is part of the electronics team for EPA Robotics (FRC Team 8048), with other teammates focusing on building the frame, programming and other areas. “I work on the brain of the robot, the main circuit board, making sure everything is connected properly.” Nathan hadn’t learned about electronics in school, but he thoroughly enjoyed learning from his coaches and now sees some of his knowledge connecting to his physics class in school.

Andy Tan, one of the EPA Robotics coaches, was also sorting Mars Rover parts when I walked up to the garage on Friday evening. Back in 2015, Andy was at a Pi Day party hosted by a co-worker and heard about BCM’s robotics program. He’s been coaching ever since, and like Nathan, has enjoyed the transition from coaching Lego robotics to now coaching FRC. Andy, who has a degree in electrical engineering, has liked teaching the students about the electrical components, since that is not something they are learning in school.

“I’ve seen the students learn and grow in many ways. They’ve learned to manage their emotions better during competitions. Instead of getting upset when things don’t go well, they’ve learned to focus on how to fix the problem. I’ve also seen Nathan and the other students grow as they’ve stepped up to lead their own meetings, self-organizing, managing discussion and asking questions.”

Overcoming the challenges of Covid has been a great source of accomplishment for the team. At the beginning, it was unclear how everything would run since robotics is such a hands-on activity, but the students were able to meet virtually and work on small robots at home. It was difficult to overcome Zoom fatigue and join robotics virtually on Friday

night after being online all week for school, but the students have persevered and 100% of them are still actively involved in the program. The team recently participated in two challenges through FRC and won two rookie awards, one for the Game Design Challenge and their 2020 robot design. They were also prominently displayed in the Bay Area FRC Awards Show.

As Nathan heads into the summer, he’s excited to build the Mars Rover since he enjoyed building Connie (their FRC robot) so much.

“I’m proud of the robot we built. It was fun to tell my friends that I got to go to NASA to work on our robot; they didn’t believe me at first. I like learning about new things, and I’m considering a career in computer science or maybe becoming a doctor. I’m excited to recruit more students. I recently invited some other high school students and I hope they join.”

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