Behind the Scenes at ISU’s Robotics Competition

By Drew Lacy, Communication ‘14

I had admittedly arrived a little late, having gone to the wrong location for the event and having to jog. But, I could tell I was in the right place when I heard the cheers of a crowd, a blend of excited encouragements spoken in every language you can imagine.

When I wandered into the Clemente Center, I found a ring of people surrounding a central mat. Standing, sitting, practically flopped out on the floor to get a closer look, they were ISU students.  The spectacle they were so closely watching was a robotics competition.

I wasn’t really sure what I was watching, at first. Before me, a small rover-like robot rolled autonomously along, running over what appeared to be plastic gems scattered across the field. As it would pass by the glittering plastic treasures, an arm on the front of the robot would occasionally scoop a few up as the crowd cheered it on. Standing off to the front, a team of ISU students -the group behind the creation of that particular robot -watched anxiously, occasionally cringing when their creation would inch a little too close to the boundaries of the mat (an action worth disqualification if pushed too far) or find itself stuck on a plastic rock in the field.

Several different robots competed. Some gobbled up the plastic gems with ease, while others charged out of bounds and were disqualified almost immediately. What struck me more than the robotics on display was the encouragement of the crowd. Over 100 ISU students broke into ecstatic cheering for each success and into a sympathetic “Awwwh” when robots would struggle. The students chattered excitedly in a blur of different languages ( a display of incredible diversity). But despite the different conversations in different dialects and languages, one moment brought everyone together and even had me caught in the moment.

One robot, code-named JUDE, entered the arena. The robot’s design team spoke proudly of their machine before turning it on to let it do its thing. It started off well, but soon began to struggle to pick up the plastic gems. As it fought on, one voice from the crowd rose above the others.

Hey, Jude, don’t make it bad…

The robot chugged along, picking up a few gems here and there. A few more voices, laden with accents from around the world, chimed in.

Take a sad song and make it better…

Within moments, most of the crowd was joining in. The robot, seeming almost encouraged by the chorus surrounding it, snagged a few more plastic gems. It was a heartening display of people coming together to cheer on a creation that perhaps wasn’t doing as well as hoped.

I think it was this moment more than any that the simultaneous diversity and unity of the ISU program really struck me. People from countries around the world were singing together, encouraging a robot (and really, a team) most of them had no direct connection to. In many ways, Florida Tech couldn’t have been a better home for these students. With a campus and population as diverse as ours, it’s something we experience every day: people coming together from wildly different backgrounds to accomplish great things.

JUDE’s run eventually came to an end, and as the judges counted its gems, I’m not sure how many of us were paying attention. Instead, we were still swaying back and forth as one united group, some humming and some singing, everyone together.

Na na na, na-na na na…”

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