Ella Rutledge and Making Robots

Ella Rutledge (Amesbury, MA) is a little nervous about the robotic season this year.  On the surface everything would seem to be better: more coaching, being able to work during the afternoon sports block, a tradition of winning.  But to Ella “everything was so good” last year. Her only disappointment last year was not being able to drive the robot  in competition.  She got hints that she might be able to last year but it never materialized.  It’s “obviously a privilege” and something she desperately wants to do.

Thinking she would snowboard last year, she got involved in robotics when Mr. Cox and another student took her to the “Botcave” and let her touch and drive the robot from the prior year’s competition.  From that one night it got real. Ella was always interested in robotics but told herself  “I can’t do that”.  Coming from a really “nerdy” family with engineers for parents and a brother who built robots as a kid, Ella saw herself as the dyslexic member of the family who didn’t get great grades. It just seemed out of reach.

So what she achieved last year felt a little out of character to Ella. “ITS EPIC! We won. You don't understand. I don’t win things. I can’t even win board games.  But we won. And a part of it was ME!”  

The school clocks time in the Botcave. Ella spent more time in the Botcave last year than anyone else on the team other than Mr. Cox, the faculty advisor and spiritual leader of the robotics program.  Ella’s specialty is on the hardware side.  She has always been curious about how mechanical things work.  Her grandfather once gave her his old watch so that she could take it apart (unfortunately, it disappeared before she could get it back together). She spent a lot of time this past winter learning to crimp wires and run cables. More than anything, she replaced chain drives. By her count she replaced every chain on the drive systems of the robot at least three times during the season.

There is an irony there as Ella is also a member of the mountain bike team. She appears to have a particular skill in throwing chains off of bikes. “Every single bike I have had seems to throw chains. I dunno maybe it’s me”, she shrugs with her mischievous smile breaking across her face. “Last race I threw the chain off my high gear and then I got it back on which was hard and then I threw it off my low gear.”  She grumbles that it is the only reason one of her teammates passed her.

Ella is super excited for the upcoming season. There is intense speculation about what this year’s challenge will entail. The Steampunk theme has the team’s imaginations soaring - literally. “I really hope that it will mean flying robots!” she gushes, although everyone is pretty sure that that might be a step too far. “Imagine one getting loose in the audience…” she laughs.  The more likely speculation is a climbing or a football throwing (they look like blimps after-all) robot.  In any case, Ella is in it for the long haul.