After a successful regular season, members of the Clark Magnet High School robotics team packed up their robots and headed for the Midwest earlier this month, where they competed against some of the best robotics teams in the United States and Canada.
The journey from La Crescenta to the Indiana Robotics Invitational began in January when the 30-member team known as the Circuit Breakers built two robots from scratch within six weeks — a required deadline to compete regionally and nationally.
This year, the universal task among the teams was to create a robot that would compete in a Frisbee game.
"You get a challenge that appears to be way too difficult to solve in the amount of time, money, resources and space that you have, but for 13 years, we've been making it happen every time," said David Black, Clark's robotics and engineering teacher. As a student at Clark, Black himself was once on the team.
The Circuit Breakers, listed in the competition as Team 696, built two robots named Ratchet and Clank to throw Frisbees into goals and pick them up off the ground. They built two in order to have a back-up in case something went wrong with their primary robot.
One Friday, students toiled in the workshop until 3 a.m. Saturday, only to return at 8 a.m. again the same morning and work until 10 p.m. Sunday night.
At regional competitions in Los Angeles and San Bernardino, the hard work paid off when the Circuit Breakers placed second with Ratchet, earning them the right to bring their robots to the Indiana Robotics Invitational.
Eleven students flew to Indianapolis, but Black drove Ratchet and Clank across the country in a trailer donated by Lexus of Glendale – one of many organizations that sponsored the team.
Clank competed in nine matches, winning four and losing five. At one point, the Circuit Breakers were in fifth place out of nearly 70 teams, but when Clank unexpectedly shut down twice during competition, their ranking dropped.
Even though the team placed 42nd, the students were able to compete with the best of the best in the high school robotics world.
Still, the Circuit Breakers performed better than 16-year-old Saikiran Ramanan expected. He said he was grateful the team earned the chance to compete this year following last year, when they didn't earn the opportunity to compete at the invitational.
"We always looked up to these teams as the big boys," Saikiran said. "We met our heroes — it was a pretty big deal … we were more excited seeing these teams in person and seeing how they were just like us."