Team Singularity attends Zero Robotics Finals

By Staff Writer Shivani Avasarala

MSJ Robotics Team Singularity attended the Zero Robotics Finals at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on January 27. As one of the 42 finalists from around the world, the team participated in two preliminary matches before their elimination from the tournament due to unforeseen miscalculations.

Created in 2009 by the MIT Space Systems Laboratory and astronaut Greg Chamitoff, the Zero Robotics High School Tournament provides a platform for students to conduct research with applications in the International Space Station (ISS). Students form community or school-based teams of five to 20 members and collaborate to create autonomous programs for “satellite assistant” robots, known as SPHERES, to solve an annual challenge. Teams must successfully pass several virtual 2D and 3D simulations before proceeding to the Finals, in which teams from all over the world gather and form alliances, in which three teams partner together to compete, and test their code on functional SPHERES in the International Space Station. This year’s challenge specifically, involves constructing a program that prompts the simulated SPHERES robot to locate an ideal satellite zone, and assemble pieces of a satellite in that area.

The event itself kicked off with introductions from prominent sponsors, including MIT, European Space Agency, University of Sydney, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and other special guests. Alliances played their Finals matches based on their initial ranking order, and matches were webcasted live to all participants. Team Singularity had the chance to play in two preliminary matches with their alliance, consisting of AachenerNerds from Aachen, Germany, and Team Appreciate from Austin, Texas. During those matches, their robot experienced some unexpected fluctuations in its performance.

Team Singularity, mentored by Science Teacher Gabriele Estabrook and led by Coach Peter Wu, consists of 14 members. The members are Sophomores Priya Talreja, Jacob Yeung, Anthony Zhou; Juniors Akshay Aravindan, Brandon Lu, Waylon Peng, Andre Wang, David Wang, Max Wu and Angela Yi; and Seniors Jason Jen, James Li, Carl Luo, and Catherine Zeng. Going into their third consecutive year participating in the tournament, the team began working on this project through the duration of first semester, and compiled their simulation programs for submission before each successive preliminary deadline. Because testing and analyzing the code was a crucial part of this year’s challenge, the team decided to take a new approach regarding team structure. Although they primarily divided themselves into sub-teams of coders and testers unlike before, the team members still collaborated and shared ideas to contribute to the overall program. The new challenge also presented obstacles of greater difficulty, such as significantly reducing code size to account for the robot’s limited data space. The hard work and commitment the team devoted to this effort paid off with their first qualification for the ISS Finals in the history of their team.

Although they were eliminated early on in the tournament, the team will strive to improve upon their weaknesses and take a more realistic approach on next year’s challenge. Regarding his aspirations for the future of the team, Captain Junior Max Wu said, “We did a really good job; we made it into the Finals this year, which we had never done before. Next year, we are hoping to win more games, build a stronger team, and get everyone more involved with the code.”

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