El Camino College Robotics Club Prepares for Competition and Careers
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El Camino College Robotics Club Prepares for Competition and Careers

Sebastian Alejandro Araque-Vera, or “Sav,” as he is known by his friends, learned the hard way that solutions to problems are often found in mistakes. This fact was illustrated perfectly on a recent afternoon when he was taking apart a nearly fully assembled robotic component to correct an error made early in the construction phase. 

“Fixing problems is what the majority of engineering and robotics is all about,” said El Camino College mechanical engineering major Araque-Vera, shaking his head and taking each piece apart, bolt by bolt. “It’s just not always fun. Now I have to do this all over again, but I probably won’t make that same mistake again.”

Araque-Vera and other members of the El Camino Robotics Club are working on their entry for college competitions. To compete, students must build a robot entirely from scratch, including programming that allows it to operate under preset commands. The college’s robotics shop is stocked with equipment from other projects – all ready to be repurposed and reused in the newest creation. If a specialty piece is needed, no worries; Robotics Club President Noe Servellon brought in his 3D printer and can fabricate additional components. 

“Making our own parts and finding new ways to make things work is part of engineering,” said Servellon, who got his start in robotics several years ago creating Lego robots and handmade drones from scratch. “When you run out of sprockets – or anything – you have to take care of it, even if it means making your own.” 

Club members also volunteer to help middle school and high school aspiring engineers during robotics competitions at El Camino College. During the events, teams of students are tasked with designing and building a robot to play against other teams in a game-based engineering challenge. El Camino volunteers set up the gym, work with the teams to troubleshoot during the competitions and then clean up at the end. Other volunteers from the community help out as well; several Northrop Grumman employees volunteered at the last event and others are encouraged to attend and assist as well. 

“Robotics education at El Camino offers students of all ages an opportunity to explore their interests in science and engineering, while learning how to approach challenges and solve problems,” said El Camino College President Dena P. Maloney. 

The next event for elementary/middle schools is the El Camino College VEX IQ Squared Away Tournament, set for Feb. 15-16 in the college’s East Dining Room. 

“We like working with the young kids; it also helps us with ideas sometimes,” Araque-Vera said. “During one competition, a team had a problem that we helped with. By working with that problem, it then helped us solve a similar problem of our own.” 

Most of the El Camino Robotics Club members are interested in pursuing STEM-related education and careers. Servellon is a robotics engineering major who plans to transfer and continue his studies at a university. He enjoys being a part of this relatively new field because he believes it offers career flexibility as far as the wide variety of companies that use robotics. 

“I like the fact that you can fit robotics into anything,” he said. “Soon, positions will open up in every industry where robotics will be part of the operating systems. And engineering makes things better by fixing problems that are already there and solving other problems before they happen.” 

El Camino College offers a robotics class where students construct and test prototype robots while exploring the technologies used to fabricate model robotics systems. Additional topics covered include basic electronics theory, electro-mechanical assembly, motors and micro-controller operation, basic programming, and careers in technology. The class is a good introduction to the club, which takes the class concepts even further. 

“I took the robotics class at El Camino while I was still in high school, so I got to learn about the program right away,” said Moises Santander, who is pursuing a career in robotics engineering. “Working with the club also helps me with my current classes, as far as problem-solving and mechanics.” 

Derek Tan is computer science major who focuses on writing the code for the club’s robot so that it can follow programmed commands. He said he likes the team aspect of the club, noting that everyone has a job to do that contributes to the final product. Araque-Vera agrees. 

“I like how this prepares us for real-world problems and gets me to a new way of thinking,” he said, smiling as he continued to dismantle the piece of equipment. “Also, robots are fun to build and fun to work with, but when you mess up, it can be extremely tedious.” 

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Photos available online:
El Camino College Robotics Club President Noe Servellon discusses the latest robot and its features.

Members of the El Camino College Robotics Club work on their robot to prepare for competition.

February 5, 2020