RetroRobotics senior captain’s legacy

On April 4, 2024, Perkiomen Valley’s RetroRobotics team participated in the Mid-Atlantic Championships at Lehigh University’s Stabler Arena. Under the leadership of senior Dheer Patel, the club and its robot, Sonic, competed alongside 60 other teams, going the farthest the Vikings have ever in PV’s history.

“I was so proud to be the captain of our best year, our golden year,” Patel said. “I’m so happy with the team and so proud of what they did.”

Every January, RetroRobotics receives a new task for which an entirely new robot must be designed and built since rules prohibit repurposing a past year’s model. This year, officials required the team to create a robot that can gather circular game pieces dubbed “notes” from the playing field and propel them into scoring goals, including a towering speaker standing ten feet high, serving as the main scoring zone. The team created Sonic in six weeks, two weeks faster than normal, due to weather conditions causing meeting cancellations. Despite this, the team worked diligently to earn the necessary points at the two regional events at Hatboro-Horsham and Bensalem High School to arrive at the championships. 

“Our team’s robot is equipped with a sophisticated intake mechanism comprising a series of belts and flywheels to efficiently collect the notes. Following intake, the notes seamlessly transition to our launcher subsystem, primed for scoring into various goals,” Patel said. “To ensure optimal performance across all subsystems, we employ a strategic blend of motors and pneumatics, maximizing our robot’s capabilities on the competition stage.”

At the competition, Sonic experienced issues concerning its wiring. The robot broke down during three matches the day of the competition, leaving the team unable to move on to the play-offs.

“Other than that, our robot has been running really smoothly, not really any major mechanical problems,” Patel said. “We were able to design, reiterate, and improve our robot as we went to other competitions.”

However, while the robot may not have advanced, the team did in their ability to cooperate and perform under high-stress situations. As a leader, Patel likes to encourage the uncomfortable by placing members in new situations so they can grow and learn. Communication improved amongst the varying sub-teams (coding, mechanics, etc.) throughout the year, but this was best observed at the Mid-Atlantic Championship.

“It allowed us to do things that were completely new but still do them well,” Patel said. “That was a struggle that we faced in previous years, and I am glad we were able to overcome that and do better this year.”

As a member since freshman year, Patel has honed his technical and leadership skills. He plans to major in astronomy and astrophysics. While not directly in line with his major, robotics offered Patel many opportunities to flourish and enjoy the experience. 

“I feel like I have developed a lot of important people skills and be able to manage more efficiently and effectively,” Patel said.

While Patel may be departing the club shortly, his desire for the team to succeed will forever continue. PV making it to Worlds and improving the club’s recruitment method are two goals Patel desires to see accomplished.

“Robotics is an underrepresented club in the school,” Patel said. “I think that it is an incredible opportunity for people to learn more and experience what it is like to have a community of peers that share similar goals to you, and a group of people that you really find fits in like family.” 

In an ever-developing world, a space where one can explore their creativity and gain practical experience offers much value for students. Robotics allows people to network in the field, connect with like-minded individuals, challenge themselves and others and foster skills that can be translated to all careers. 

“For people that are interested, look past the stereotypes. It’s not just a group of nerds huddled around a computer coding a robot that was already built for them,” Patel said. “The club serves as a great opportunity for a person to find their place in a community that will really welcome them and actually allow them to grow both as a person and in their subject matter of interest.”