The Rapid Robots FIRST Tech Challenge team was coming off a successful inaugural season that saw them advance to the State Championship when everything came to an abrupt halt.
Students were forced to finish the school year from home and the Rapid Robots team members knew getting together to work on their robot wasn’t going to happen.
“It was really weird because we were so used to that routine,” said Viraja Gopisetty, 12. “At first we didn’t know much about the coronavirus and how serious it was, but as it has evolved we have adapted and figured out how to stay engaged.”
The FIRST Tech Challenge is a hands-on, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program where students learn to think like engineers. Teams design, build and program robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams.
One of the FIRST mottos is “More than just robots,” and the Rapid Robots team has lived up to that over the past few months. The team quickly pivoted from Java code to helping mode, coming up with a trio of projects to help community members.
“As things started becoming more serious we said we should do something about what is happening around us,” said Rapid Robots Coach Sai Manohar Gopisetty. “And everyone jumped onto it.”
Project Smile was their first outreach program, which focused on bringing smiles to those in assisted living facilities, hospice and long-term care facilities. The students distributed over 250 hand-made cards to nine different places, even extending their reach to honor nurses during Nurses Week in May.
“We knew that since a lot of these places weren’t allowing visitors that patients were becoming depressed and feeling isolated so we took action to cheer them up,” said Harismar Arora, 13. “We made cards with optimistic messages on the front that we hoped would boost their morale and put a smile on their face.”
Alongside Project Smile came Project Care, which included the collection of personal protective equipment (PPE) to donate to first responders, collecting money to donate to Gleaners Food Bank and joining in the Wildcat Tour to celebrate the Novi High School Class of 2020.
The students had heard about the shortages and the impact on the healthcare system and went to work collecting…and even making supplies. All told they donated 400 KN95 masks, 45 gowns, 18 boxes of gloves, two boxes of ear savers and 3D printed 50 face shields.
“The health care workers and other essential workers put their lives in danger to save millions,” said Gursimar Arora, 13. “We as a team wanted to extend our deepest heartfelt gratitude for their services during these challenging times and felt there was no better donation than the much needed, much lacked PPE.”
Finally, in an effort to help educate the community the team created Project Promote. Team members educated themselves on the coronavirus and created two five minute videos. The first touched on the virus itself, how it spreads, personal hygiene to prevent the spread, symptoms to help identify if someone is infected and where to get help. Now that the stay at home order has been lifted, they created a second video that highlights social distancing and the use of masks.
“Project Promote taught me how we can make a strong and meaningful impact on people around the world without physically being there,” Vishal Swamy, 12. “It was fun to learn the video editing skills to bring our team videos together and share it with everyone we knew, including our grandparents in India to spread awareness. We were pleasantly surprised by the fact that we got over 100 views within a week of publishing the reopening awareness video.”
Kavitha Mani, another one of the coaches, said they were really happy to see the students embrace the different projects and become more involved in the community. “This is the foundation for them.”
For Viraja, she thinks this time has brought “us closer as a team and a community.”
“This is the first time in a long time our community has come together as a whole because we are fighting for something everyone in the world is fighting against. It makes me think instead of just me, but how can I benefit another person.”
Said Yug Patel, 12: “We hope people learn that even in the hardest times, there are ways to do positive things for not only yourself but for other people.”
Rapid Robots Team:
Ajay Subbiah Annamalai
Sai Manohar Gopisetty & Kavitha Mani