Ashwin Rao loves robotics, and he loves Scouting. So it makes perfect sense that he chose an Eagle Scout project that would help other kids have the same access to robotics that he had.
Ashwin, from Troop 922 in Houston, got into robotics competitions when he joined the team at his middle school, The Village School in Houston. It was something he didn’t even think twice about — some of his friends were doing it, it looked interesting to him, so he signed on.
It wasn’t until a few years later, when he was brainstorming ideas for an Eagle Scout project, that he realized that not all middle schools offered their students the same opportunity that he had.
The primary reason, it turned out, was something he could help with.
“It’s space constraints,” Ashwin says. “The tables weigh so much, and they take up so much space. I wanted to make tables that were lightweight and affordable.”
A few years later — and after a few unplanned pauses due to local COVID restrictions —Ashwin had led a team of 20 volunteers as they built robotics tables for three different middle schools in his area.
The challenges of competitive robotics
FIRST Robotics Competitions combine the “excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology,” according to its official website.
Early in the fall, each FIRST-registered robotics team receives instructions on that season’s challenge. They have until early the next year, when the competitions begin, to figure out the solution.
“Each year there’s a problem we have to solve, and we have to build a robot to complete certain tasks,” Ashwin says.
The challenges are printed on a large mat that is shipped to each team. Competitors are required to use that mat as they design and program a robot to roll across it and complete the required tasks.
The problem is the mats are often huge — way larger than the average table available at most middle schools.
“I wanted to build competition-sized tables,” Ashwin says, “because if you don’t already have the right size tables, it’s very difficult to do robotics.”
Since the schools Ashwin wanted to help were already low on space, building giant, heavy wooden tables wouldn’t do anybody any good. Ashwin needed a lightweight solution, something that could be moved out of the way and stored so the space could be used for other activities.
That’s why he chose to build the tables out of a durable-but-lightweight foam.
“There’s not that much of a difference between foam and wood when it comes to doing robotics,” Ashwin says. “Foam seemed like the perfect solution to make sure they wouldn’t be super heavy.”
Ashwin also added a hinge in the middle, so the tables could be easily folded and stored to make room for band practice, chess club, or maybe a Cub Scout meeting …
“It’s super cool that something I made is helping other people do something that I love,” he says.
Ashwin, now 15, continues to be active in Troop 922. He’s also still active in robotics. And he’s excelling as a student at The Village School. He says Scouts BSA has helped him develop a mindset that has fit in greatly with his academic and robotics endeavors.
“Leadership was a major thing that helped me,” he says. “In seventh and eighth grade, I was the captain of the robotics team, so the leadership I learned from Scouts really helped me with that.”