Maker Faire New York: GUS Robotics Interview

Maker Faire New York: GUS Robotics Interview

The countdown to our third annual Maker Faire New York, taking place September 29 and 30 at the New York Hall of Science, marches on. Over 400 makers, with ages ranging from young to seasoned, are gearing up to share their hard work and innovative projects with the community. Among them is GUS Robotics Team 228, who are bringing their prized basketball-playing GUS 14 robot. We caught up with team captain Dave Powers to hear more about GUS 14 and the team of brilliant young makers who made it.

1. Tell us about GUS 14. Who built him, what unique skills does he have, and what inspired his design?
GUS 14 is a 4-foot-tall, 150-pound, basketball-playing robot that balances bridges in his spare time. He was designed and built by 25 high school students from Platt High School, Maloney High School, Wilcox Tech High School, Sheehan High School, and Liam Hall High School in Meriden and Wallingford, Connecticut, and a group of engineers who volunteer their time to help guide the students through the process.

GUS’ design was inspired by many prototypes conducted in the first two weeks on the six-week build time. These prototypes were then used to single out the best design for this year’s game. His most notable and unique skill is his ability to balance an 88-inch-long bridge with two other robots on it, using pneumatic pistons that aid in smoothly leveling the bridge to a balance.

2. What was the team’s R&D process like?
Every year GUS Robotics tries to go deeper and deeper into involving the students in the engineering process. At the beginning of the six weeks, the entire team sits down and discusses the game. This is the any-idea-is-possible, throw-everything-on-the-table meeting. From there we choose the better ideas and start prototyping. After prototypes have been completed, we discuss again what is the best design and what will help push us above the other teams competing.

After that meeting is concluded, the CADing of the robot begins. Students sit down with mentors who do CADing for a living and learn everything that is involved with creating a realistic and robust design. Once the CAD is completed and approved by every one in the team, we send out prints to our sheet metal sponsors, and start machining parts in-house. This not only teaches students how to branch out and create business connections with real companies, it allows us to show the kids who want to learn how to make parts from raw materials. By the time all of the parts came back and the competition parts got powder-coated, there were only four and a half days left to assemble GUS. Students and mentors worked side by side long into the nights to assemble, test, tweak, and program the robots. In the end, we finished just in time.

3. What do you think is the most important thing the team learned through the design/build process?
This is a very hard question to answer. So much is gained from the FIRST program and especially building a robot like GUS. I believe that the most important this GUS has taught would have to be to never give up in anything you do. Anything is really possible if you put your head to it, and you can achieve great things with some hard work, both on and off the FIRST field. The way the team as a whole has progressed in the past 14 years in almost unreal, and watching the students who experience building robots like these achieve great things on their own is even more powerful.

4. How did GUS 14 do at this year’s FIRST robotics competition?
GUS 14 did very well this year, becoming a finalist at the WPI Regional, and a semifinalists at the Northeast Utilities Connecticut Regional!

5. How will you be demoing GUS 14 at Maker Faire?
At Maker Faire we will be allowing people to drive GUS 14 using a Microsoft Kinect! We will also have GUS 14’s clone, our practice robot, to be driven using a standard Xbox controller! We will also have the students who put their hearts and souls into this robot answering any questions you have about the process.

6. How did you hear about Maker Faire and why did your team decide to participate?
Some students on GUS Robotics had heard about Maker Faire from some mentors of our partnering team and best friends, Team 195, the Cyber Knights from Southington, CT. Their mentors have attended Maker Faire in previous years, and after a little research it was a unanimous decision that we wanted to be a part of this years expo!

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7. What is your role in the team? How did you get involved?
My role on the team seems to change from moment to moment. Every student on the team is encouraged to try out everything, but for the past three years I have been the Captain and driver of GUS Robotics. I’ve been involved with GUS since I was 3 years old. My father helped start the team, and when I was a young boy he would always take me to the meetings.

As I’ve grown, I’ve seen the team evolve into something so much greater than what we had anticipated 14 years ago. We are officially an organization that builds robots, but this really is a family. The experiences I’ve had being involved with this team have changed my life and guided me to a place I wouldn’t have even imagined as a young boy — as it has for many of the students who have gone through the program. I’ve seen kids stumble in with no clear sense of what they want to do with their lives, and walk out with their heads held high and a profound understanding of who they are and what they’re really capable of.

8. What advice can you give about working with groups of young makers?
They’re capable of anything, so help guide them by showing your full support. The young makers are the future, and it’s looking very bright, but there are too many naysayers in the world, and innovation is not celebrated as much as it should be. Help keep us motivated, and use the words “you can do anything” more. It may be more inspiring than you can imagine. I know it was for me.

Wow, talk about inspiring! For folks who want to come out and meet the team and see GUS 14 in action, all the information you need to attend the Faire is on the Maker Faire site.

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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