Life presents myriad opportunities to be humbled. But perhaps none are so delicious as those times when you are surrounded by teens.
Last weekend 60 high schools from all points on the map sent teams to compete in the San Diego Regional FIRST Robotics Competition at the old Sports Arena in Point Loma.
Hundreds of brilliant, above average and average students were there to watch their creations bang and bump against each other as they tried to outscore opponents over a two-day tournament. Sweetwater Union High School District was represented by teams from Castle Park, Chula Vista, Eastlake, Hilltop, Montgomery and Sweetwater high schools.
Each team was responsible for building from scratch a robot capabale of retrieving and throwing a giant rubber ball into one of several goals while zipping around at break-neck speeds.
Teenagers tinkered with wires and computers. They manipulated metal arms and hydraulic pumps and developed programs that allowed their robots to operate autonomously. They talked about strategy the way some coaches talk about zone defense and player formation.
Earlier in the school year students were given a month and a half to build their machines. At the end of six weeks the robots had to be put away until competition weekend. For some teams that left very little time to work out the bugs or become familiar with the way their robots worked remotely. That meant, on match day, teams were scrambling to fix what wasn’t working properly or that which had been banged up in competition.
It raised the question, what if NASA was run this way? What if scientists and engineers were asked to build a planet explorer and then learn to fix on the fly the things that went wrong? Then you remember, they do.
Of course the minds that put people and robots on faraway planets don’t intend for their machines to malfunction. But sometimes they do. And they fix what is wrong and learn from the experience and sometimes develop better approaches and machines. And to a smaller degree, that’s what was seen last weekend.
In simple terms, kids put their heads to gether to create a machine that can put a ball through hole via remote control. But in a broader sense some of these kids were getting a taste of engineering and programming. They were learning what it was like to work on a team to achieve a common goal. These students were taking their first steps to becoming the men and women who build rockets and robots that explore distant planets. The engineers who develop vehicles that dive deep into oceans and send back pictures of the undiscovered.
They are the people who will one day take us on wild adventures. It’s a humbling thought.