On Monday, January 28, a team of five Jesuit students will compete in the Zero Robotics International High School Tournament Finals. Their original code will be used to program robotic satellites on the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the competition.
The team members will travel to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for a viewing party of their code in action at the competition hosted and judged by astronauts aboard the ISS.
This year, teams in the Zero Robotics competition were charged with the task of creating a program to successfully hook two satellites together in microgravity. The students' code commands one robotic satellite to navigate to another disabled satellite, hook onto it, and tow it to safety. The goal is to complete these tasks in the shortest amount of time while also navigating debris to incur the least amount of damage to their satellite.
Leading up to the final round, teams designed and entered their code in a simulation program that recreated the satellite's movement and tallied a score in real time. The final round of competition aboard the ISS is the first time each team's code will be used on real, 3D-printed satellites, roughly the size and shape of a basketballs.
"I think the challenge of coding something with real life applications is what makes Zero Robotics more interesting than other coding competitions," commented Sid Menon '20, co-leader and founding member of club.
This is the first year a team from Jesuit has entered Zero Robotics. After two preliminary rounds of competition, Jesuit's team was drafted into an alliance with the top-ranked team worldwide from Trapani, Italy and a top US team from Saratoga, CA. Their alliance collaborated on a single code for submission and earned the top score out of the 14 alliances that qualified for the final round.
Zero Robotics provides students with an excellent opportunity to experience interacting and working with peers in a global setting. The tournament rules even require that teams from at least two different continents are represented within each alliance. For the final submission deadline on Dec. 23, Jesuit's team worked all day while their partners in Italy pulled an all-nighter to make last-minute improvements.
"It was really interesting working with a team from another continent," said member James Martini '20. "Not only was language a challenge at times, but we also had to coordinate different time zones to communicate when everyone would be awake."
The teams were able to find times on Saturday mornings and evenings during the week to work together via WhatsApp and Google Hang, with much assistance from Google Translate.
"Fortunately, the team from Italy spoke conversational English," said club co-leader Rupert Li '20. "However, we did encounter some problems with the technical terms. It is difficult to understand complex mathematical concepts with only a small vocabulary, but we worked through it."
The three teams in the alliance will meet for the first time in person at the final competition and viewing party. They will also have the opportunity to tour MIT and the Space Systems Laboratory.
"For some of us who are interested in attending MIT, this is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the school," said Sid Menon '20. "We are eager to watch the results of the competition, but mostly we are proud of how well we have done in our first year as a club and excited about future opportunities we will have based on the knowledge we gained this year."
Pictured above: Jesuit's Zero Robotics Team members (clockwise from top left) James Martini '20, Brian Xu '21, Dominic DeBettencourt '20, Rupert Li '20, and Sid Menon '20 will attend the final round of competition hosted by MIT in Cambridge, MA