Community robotics team celebrates rookie year with wins

Courtesy of Brian Wilcove
Members of the DeepVision robotics team fix the lift of their robot between matches at the Oct. 5 competition.

Before last year, 17-year-old Reilly Dennedy had never held a drill. Within the year, she not only held a drill, but also helped her team put together a working robot, complete with computer vision and an autonomous mode, that won two awards at its second competition.

“I had no idea what I was doing, at all, but people helped me out,” Dennedy said.

DeepVision was born. The community-based robotics team of 15 is nearing the end of its rookie year, with two successful competitions down. The teammates are teens who attend Los Altos High, Mountain View High, Monta Vista High, Homestead High and Blach Intermediate School.

The robotics competition starts when the teams learn what the task of the competition will be, then they have six weeks to build and program a robot and practice using it. Then, they bag it. They’re not allowed to touch the robot again until the competition.

Last January, the team learned that the competition would be to use the robot to pick up blocks from the ground and place them on a teeter-totter. The opposing team would be doing the same, and whichever team was able to place more blocks on their end of the teeter-totter would win. Other, more-established teams already had their robots built before the six-week crunch time began, so they could use those six weeks to update their code and practice driving the robot. DeepVision was scrambling.

Isaac Wilcove, a junior at Mountain View High, who wrote all of the code for the robot, was spending at least 20 hours per week on the robotics competition, according to his dad, Brian Wilcove.

At the Oct. 5 match, Dennedy was not confident the competition would go well. It was off to a rough start, with a missing power cord for the robot and a missing laptop charger.

“We were freaking out,” she recalled.

But DeepVision won 12 of its matches, which meant it was ranked eighth of 36 teams, and the team received two awards: Top Seeded Rookie and Rookie Inspiration Award (for the robot’s novel design).

A diverse team

DeepVision is different from other robotics teams because it’s a community team, not a school team. The local school teams have 40 or so teammates, so not everyone gets to play an important part in each match, Dennedy said. DeepVision also doesn’t receive the funding a school team does. Members are working out of a garage now, and they raised approximately $25,000 from various sponsors and family members to build their first bot and pay the competition fees. They’re hoping to find somewhere new to work, where they can grow.

“We’ve all chosen to accept that our team is not on level footing with the other teams,” Dennedy said. “We have the same six weeks and the same competition, but there’s a different set of skills that we have to use because we don’t have as much funding and as many people.”

Dennedy also said the team is special because it’s almost half girls, which is rare for robotics teams, which, like the field of engineering, tend to be dominated by boys.

They also have a diverse set of interests. Dennedy is a senior enrolled at Los Altos High, but she takes her classes at Foothill College through the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District’s Middle College program. She hopes to become a judge some day. But she said the root of building robots, the critical thinking and problem solving, she’ll carry with her.

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