By: Sydney Umstead
You may be wondering how we got here, to this college essay on a robot I made with a great friend of mine, where all of this started and how exactly it was plausible. My answer is one that involves a story. A simple idea that became possible with a little elbow grease and help from an amazing man, who was my robotics teacher. My name is Noah, and this is the story of how I built a robotic Frankenstein’s monster.
My freshman year of high school, my English teacher, Mrs. Matthews, assigned our class to read Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. We grumbled and groaned at the idea, me, the most of all. I was never a fan of literature, especially what was noted as “classics.” Classic snooze fest, I thought to myself. A bunch of older people stating their opinions on life, any lecture I could hear from my parents. But, as I sat there reading, I felt inspiration rush over me. If I could manage to make a robotic Frankenstein, I’d be notorious, a household name at such a young age. Throughout the next 3 months, I planned every meticulous detail. You know, normal kid stuff. Eventually, one fact began to plague my mind. There is absolutely no way my allowance can pay for all the utilities I would need readily available. So, I sat, and I thought, conjuring various ways I could make money. I wrote in my notebook ideas like “lawn maintenance” or “petty theft”. A slew of ways that would either not bring enough money or ones that were immoral. And not to mention, even if I could subject my morals for this robot, my parents would not be enthused. Each time I headed back to the drawing board. Then, the idea struck me like a baseball that had been thrown at my head. I realized that every hero needs his sidekick. Duh. This revelation led me to one man. The next day, I mustered up the courage to walk down the cold dense science hallway to my technology teacher, Dr. Rod’s classroom. I explained the details of the opportunity to him and with his big-toothed grin, he agreed. And there we were, two mad scientists embracing intellectual challenge and a new world of opportunities. A journey unknown. At the time, we had no idea where we were going. I mean, how could we?
Over the next 5 months, we worked together after school almost everyday. The robot was really starting to come together. We dubbed it, “Operation Monster”. That was until, Dr. Rod approached me after lunch one day. I knew that he had bad news. I could always tell when something was wrong with him. He would get this look on his face like he smelled something faul. Before he even opened his mouth, I was more than aware something nasty was about to fall from his lips. He informed me that the money was beginning to become a problem, and that the school board was pressuring him to stop working on the project altogether due to budgetary cuts. The arms of the robot alone cost $120,000, $60,000 for each arm. I knew that I could not blame the school board but I was not yet ready to give up. I went back to square one, and I was once again held up in my room, sitting and thinking about how we can finish our “Operation Monster”. I remembered the school board and how they held meetings every week. I never bothered with those meetings before, I brushed them off but I knew they opened the floor to students and I had quite a bit to say. I started working on a ten page slideshow that I would present alongside Dr. Rod at the next school board meeting. I titled it, “Robots May be Expensive but, They are Worth It”. I thought that it was a pretty persuasive name for the slideshow. I laughed to myself thinking how proud my English teacher might be that I used persuasive techniques. When it was completed, I showed it to Dr. Rod. I watched as he read through each and every slide. Occasionally, he’d tip his glasses slightly as he scanned through the topics. I felt that time had somehow slowed down entirely. After what appeared to be the longest 10 minutes of my life, I finally got his approval, and once again that cheshire grin illuminated from his face. We had high hopes, and when Sunday rolled around, we donned our best suits and headed off to the meeting. The time to conquer the grave evil that was the school board rapidly approached us, and we were prepared for battle. Equipped to be the best superheroes to ever live. After a few concluding statements about things like lunch meal management, the floor opened to any student who was willing to speak. I beamed out of my chair and announced that I would like to present my ideas. I swear I saw a few of them roll their eyes. Some however, smiled. And I was counting on those few smiling faces. Dr. Rod and I exchanged nods of approval as we outlined the costs and explained to the board. Explaining that while it may be expensive to build, there would be media coverage that would bring in revenue for the school. After a lot of discussion and back and forth debates, we got the majority vote to keep “Operation Monster” and even to be provided with aids and grants that would ensure the robot got built and so, the project was once again steam-rolling towards success. The side of the good had remained undefeated, I went home and considered all the comics I ever read. That night, I came to the conclusion that good really does always prevail.
The next year of my life was dedicated to the robot and to helping financially in any way that I could. I pleaded with my parents to raise my allowance, with the agreement that I would do more chores around the house. As tedious as that may seem, I realized that if my life became a cycle of work and building. I decided then that I was okay with that because each step got me closer to achieving my goals. Dr. Rod was dedicated too. He spent all night at the school sometimes, just working and planning. He spent all his lunch break once just perusing the internet for the cheapest and best parts we could use. The next two years after that were the same but our team had made so much progress. By that time, it was my senior year. But, we were nearly done and both felt that it was time to tell the press our story. I looked around for local papers, or broadcasting channels, anything or anyone that I could get to listen to me and my story. I got an email back from local journalist, Lacy Steven. She told me she actually majored in Journalism and Computer Science. With only the head of the robot missing, Dr. Rod and I agreed to show off “Operation Monster” on TV. Within one week, our story went national. Teachers and other media outlets bombarded the school asking to speak with us. We were over the moon. So, it was time to add the head. I remember that day so well. It was April, and it had just rained the night before. The morning dew was still fresh on the grass, as I entered the hallways preparing for the last touch. I knocked on Dr. Rod’s door, and he flashed me that same wholesome grin. We placed the head on together and our operation was completed. There was nothing but peace surrounding the air.
When asked about my high school experience and how it shaped my college decision, this story will always be the biggest defining moment. At the start of my freshman year, I had no idea what my passion in life was. I knew that I liked robots and science fiction but, I was ignorant to the idea that I could make a career out of that. I even developed a love for reading because it led to my biggest achievement. Working with Dr. Rod reminded me how a school can be a pillar of knowledge and success. This essay may not be what is typically written by interested applicants but, I am no writer. Simply a boy who wishes to pursue his passion for robotics as a career and hoping that he can do so at the university. If there are any takeaways from this story, I believe that is an example of my perseverance when it comes to something that I want to do. I plan to use my degree to continue to do the unimaginable, the intangible, and anything in between. I dream of “Operation Monster” being just the beginning of my developments in robotics.
Baseel, Casey. “Japanese High School Student Builds Giant, Moving Gundam Robot in His Free Time【Video】.” SoraNews24, 1 Dec. 2021, https://soranews24.com/2021/12/02/japanese-high-school-student-builds-giant-moving-gundam-robot-in-his-free-time%E3%80%90video%E3%80%91/. A high school student in Japan created a robot replicating a character from an anime show that he watched. I felt this was similar to my character and gave me the idea of having a journalist write his story. The student decided to build a robot completely from scratch. The student used CAD tools and 3-D printing. The robot is mobile and took several months to build.
Slepov , Dmitry. “The Real Cost of Robotics .” TechCrunch, 27 Mar. 2017, https://techcrunch.com/2016/03/27/the-real-cost-of-robotics/. My story revolves around creating a robot and the expenses needed to do so. There are many misconceptions over the cost of building a robot and Slepov highlights many important steps in doing so. He explains, “You will need to teach your robot how to do anything useful. Hello, disappointment. We all grew up watching Star Wars, so we automatically attribute some intelligence and magical powers to our mechanical helpers”. Cost can be incredibly tricky when building, especially something the scale of Frankenstein’s monster. With this article, my attempts are to highlight the cost of the robots and how Noah and Dr. Rod work with that.