Robotics on the rise

Students in the Harvard Undergraduate Robotics Club make last-minute tweaks to their MechWarfare robot before it enters a round of battle bot competition. Photo courtesy of Timothy Tamm/HURC

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Midnight came and went, and still the group of students remained huddled around a table, deep in earnest conversation. Strewn across the room were discarded wires, gears, nuts, and bolts mingled with Chinese takeout containers and soda bottles. A hush fell over the group as one bold student reached toward the center of the table, took a deep breath, and flipped a switch.

In an instant, the high-pitched whirr of a motor rang out, echoing across the nearly deserted space. Gingerly, the stocky, four-legged robot sitting on the table wobbled slightly as it rose to a standing position.

“That was our defining moment,” said Will Bryk ’19, a physics concentrator and co-president of the Harvard Undergraduate Robotics Club. “From that point on, everyone came together and just kept working really hard because we saw that it was actually possible. We could build this.”

It was also the moment that rescued this John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences student organization from the brink of dissolution. The club, which had dwindled to only a few student members, had been unable to complete any robots the previous year.

With a renewed sense of purpose, club members poured their hearts and souls into this new robot, a BB-shooting Mech Warfare battle bot that went on to outgun a dozen other team’s machines on its way to a decisive victory at the Shepherd University ShepRoboFest the following spring.

The victory, and the shared experience of working alongside peers to accomplish a seemingly impossible task, fueled the students’ passions to work harder and launched a new chapter for HURC.

Nearly two years have passed since that initial Mech Warfare victory, and the organization now boasts more than 100 members and has launched eight project teams to design and build robots for local, national, and international competitions.