The Zebrotics preseason


At lunch on December 3, 2018, students walked into science teacher Christia West’s room for a weekly meeting of Zebrotics, Community High’s robotics team. After the students sat down at a table and conversed for a few minutes, West started the meeting with an important announcement: registration for the team was due soon and anyone who missed the deadline would lose their place on the team. West then took to her computer to check who was already on the team and who still needed to register.

This meeting took place during Zebrotics’ preseason, which involves registering and training for the upcoming FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition. The competition starts on Jan. 5 at a kickoff event where teams receive information about the competition, or the “game.” Zebrotics recently held a boot-camp style training event in which they learned various skills and participated in team-building exercises. Fundraising is also part of their preseason, as well as displaying their robot and demonstrating its capabilities at the AAPS S.T.E.A.M. Exposition on Nov. 29.

“It’s just a fun time for us to play with our robot and get together with other teams because we see other teams a lot during the season,” West said.

While robotics teams generally compete against each other, the robotics community has no deep conflicts or rivalries between teams. Instead, they work together and treat each other as a family.

“At a competition, you’re going to be competing against one team one time and on an alliance with them the next time,” West said. “You’re always learning and helping other teams, so we learn from them or we help them, and that’s the whole group thing. You want to be the nice team, not the jerk team.”

The Zebrotics team always helps other teams whenever they can. The team’s main strength is programming; their seniors are especially skilled in this field and can be seen at competitions helping and teaching other teams.

“Last night, Pioneer was having some problems with their robot until our team members worked with them to help fix it,” West said. “That’s the one thing about robotics teams, we all work together if other teams are having a problem because we want everybody to have a good, competitive robot.”

This year, Zebrotics moved their robot building space to Scarlett Middle School to allow more space for organizing parts and materials.

“We have everything from little, tiny electronics parts and pneumatics components to giant sheets of sheet metal,” West said. “We have to organize all that and keep inventory.”

In addition, the team has considered different ways to improve their space while building robots or competing at the tournament.

“This year, we really haven’t [built anything] because we are just moving into this space, but one of the things we were thinking about is building another workbench,” West said. “We might start working on things like our pit because the pits are where we are at competitions. The pit is your presence at the competition, so we have banners, and we’re thinking this year about making an actual structure out of PVC pipe that we can hang things on.”

Staying prepared for the competition is crucial to a team’s success. This means being ready to make a repair or replace a robot part at any time.

“We have to take all our tools to the competition because things break,” West said, “So we usually take our entire tool chest and there’s always a little machine shop at the competition, so if we break apart and we need to actually machine a new part, we can. We can cut metal [if] we need to fabricate a new piece, we can do that at a competition. And we have. These robots are, especially depending on the game, sometimes colliding with other robots and can be hitting things.”

With the start of competition season drawing closer, Community High’s Zebrotics plans to keep preparing for the FIRST Robotics Competition until the specifications of the competition are revealed at the kickoff event on Jan. 5.