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It moved timidly at first, its gears slowly churning as it felt the spark of life flow through its wires. Slowly, it turned, rotating on its treads, as it scanned the arena for any signs of movement. Its light sensors on the alert, it sensed that something was near. It nudged forward as it felt its touch sensor activated. Immediately, like the Nordic god Thor wielding his hammer, it released its plastic Lego hammer of doom with the force of two robust motors behind it. Yet, in that time, without a warning, another robot crashed into it, sending it flailing in confusion. The true robotics battle had begun. As robots thrashed each other to pieces, many were catapulted out of the arena, with their wheels ripped off, and their motors strewn across the floor. My robot engaged in its last battle, as it struggled to stay inside the boundaries, but it was mercilessly pushed out by a more vigorous, bull-dozer robot.
Bearing witness to the raw force of technology applied and mechanized, I was astonished. Simple commands could transform an inanimate machine into a humanoid full of life. I loved that I could build a structure with Legos, attach some sort of a controller, write a few lines of code, and have my own robot that would follow my exact instructions.
Taking everything I learned from this small in-class Lego Mindstorms robotics competition, I enthusiastically joined the school's Botball robotics team. The objective was to build an autonomous robot that could carry out a range of tasks including sorting, gathering, and moving objects. I was surrounded by a group of highly motivated students, who all shared the utmost goal of building a sensational robot. Every idea was taken into account, dissected, and analyzed for its validity. The robot had to compete against others so our goal was not only to maximize our points, but to inhibit the other robot from completing its task.
Every day after school, our robotics workstation (a messy garage) became our haven as we labored to find the best design for our robot. Scattered across the floor were sheets of engineering design, details of mathematical formulas, and heaps of extra pieces as we tried to determine the best heuristic algorithm and design for our robot.
Somewhere between keeping detailed reports of our work and trying to reconcile programming with engineering, I realized how much I had come to adore robotics. In creating retractable arms, and forklifts, we were essentially trying to replicate things that were so natural to us. Even though we had a physical model– the human body – by which to base our plans on, it was exceedingly intricate to think of muscles and neurons in terms of wires and Legos.
Yet in this challenge I found the incentive to keep trying to create a model of humanity. Just as Victor Frankenstein labored to find the secret to life, I too wanted to make sense of our elaborate construction. Even the simplest things like teaching a robot to raise its mechanical arms took hours of tweaking lines and lines of code and experimenting with unusual Lego orientations. This fascination with trying to emulate our most primitive features kept me creating that new programmable formula or improving the robot's "eyes."
After two and a half months our garage only got messier, existing in a state of perpetual frenzy. As the deadline approached, we worked faster, perfecting our designs, running test trials, and celebrating with soda when appropriate. At the Southern California competition, we received first place in double-elimination and documentation, and 3rdoverall.
I hadn't yet realized the reverberations of this event, that the seeds of my future occupation had been cast and the faculties of my mind committed. Could my interest in robotics turn into a fervent enthusiasm about the simulation of a human brain in a robot? As time would tell, the ideas were already frothing, and the machinations of my wildest imaginations were set into motion. I never imagined that the brainchild of these playful explorations in engineering would ultimately lead to the development of the world's first completely autonomous robotics company, one that changed the face of mankind…
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