Right from the time I was a kid, I loved forming groups and doing something creative and spontaneous together. Perhaps it was because of all the Enid Blyton books I’d read. I loved coming up with names for groups to do something or the other. In the fourth grade, my friends and I formed groups to put up skits and even tried forming a band as we grew older. None of them quite worked out really, but the whole process of forming a group, deciding to do something in unison, brainstorming ideas and trying to coordinate was both exciting and hilarious. I still laugh when I think about how we tried to stage a performance of Alladin and The Magic Lamp when we were nine, with costumes and all, fighting over which characters we wanted to play. We never managed to stage it, but the reckless enthusiasm behind the whole thing was so infectious and motivating.
So I really thought that a group project (an academic one) would be a no-brainer. But I didn’t account for some things – that it was the first time in college that we were given a group project to do, and we still didn’t know each other too much. Moreover, not everyone in your group has the same enthusiasm towards a particular project. I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about doing the project, because to be honest, we were quite lost in the abyss of unfamiliarity of the topics the project was based on. But I was enthusiastic enough to want to give it a shot and learn up something new so we could do the project. We had to build a robot that could use its camera to find a ‘fruit’ (a table-tennis ball) of a particular color, move towards it, and knock it down into a basket. It sounded interesting anyway. So we formed groups, and marked this project onto our calendars.
As time went by, we found ourselves struggling to build this thing, although it was supposed to be a pretty basic robot. We met every weekend and spent it on the project. It was often so frustrating that we felt like dumping it into a box, burying it in the backyard, and pretending it never existed. I was really surprised though, by the willingness with which people from other groups helped us at every stage. Two friends gave us a bit of the code for the software we needed to make the robot move, another helped us through the process of installation of the software (which was so tedious that on that Sunday, I wanted to swear off computers and live in the 30s 😛 ), and yet another helped us get some components we needed at the last minute. It felt so nice! We passed it on too, to other groups that needed our help.
But I ended up doing a lot of work by myself, because as aforementioned, it was hard to expect all the members of my team to prioritize this to the same extent that I did. It was very hard work, and nerve-wracking too, to complete a major chunk of the project by myself just a day before submission; and I realized that if this had been a solo project, I’d have probably finished it ages before. *shakes head* I also realized that we hadn’t planned the project as efficiently as we should have. So this project taught me not only about the tech I needed to build it, but also a few very important lessons on teamwork, enthusiasm and discernment.
The robotic arm for picking the ‘fruit’ was working perfectly, and the robot was moving towards the right ball correctly, but independent of each other! When I amalgamated the two codes together, nothing was working and the robot was just sitting there, like a toddler determined not to budge. So we had to disable the arm and settle for having the robot move in the right direction at least.
I managed to answer the viva-voce well, and when the demo was done, we were so relieved that we laughed over the most ridiculous things. Everything just seemed a hundred times funnier than before now that the project had rolled off our backs! I did promise myself though – that I won’t let my future projects come anywhere as messy as this one was, group or otherwise… And looking back, it does feel a little nice to have built something new and to have gotten our hands messy, even if it was quite a handful! 🙂