We are the robots

Engineer helps high school robotics team become champs

In 2011, Fuzz Zubair rolled up on his bicycle to Da Vinci Science High School and asked, “Hey, who wants to build some robots?”

That's when Zubair founded the high school’s robotics team, the Vitruvian Bots. The idea: help inspire other students to pursue careers in science and technology. And in April 2019, nearly eight years after Zubair arrived on his bike, he helped lead the current Vitruvian Bots to a win at the FIRST Robotics world championship in Houston, Texas.

“The reason I got involved in robotics is that not enough young people are being encouraged to go into these fields,” Zubair said, adding that robotics competitions can open students’ minds and lead to an engineering career.

The three-day competition was fierce. More than 3,790 teams competed in point-based matches that required each team’s robots to put as many panels and cargo on faux spaceships as possible, in a limited amount of time.

“Competing against a two-time championship team was very nerve-wracking,” said Joy Uehara, a member of Vitruvian Bots. “We all stood anxiously waiting for the big screen to reveal the winner, and when our team color appeared, it turned into total excitement and screaming.”

The final round of competition came down to an exciting tiebreaker between the Vitruvian Bots and a former champion. “It was a nail-biter until the very last second,” said Jonathan Dao, a Raytheon Technologies engineer and Vitruvian Bots mentor.

Dao was a member of the first Vitruvian Bots team. He remembers when Zubair showed up on his bike in 2011.

FIRST Robotics

Fuzz Zubair tinkers with the Vitruvian Bots’ robot, nicknamed #StraightFlexin. At the start of every year, FIRST Robotic sets the guidelines for what the robots must be able to do in the upcoming competitions.

The world championship victory capped a rewarding nine months for Zubair, during which he was also named FIRST Robotics Los Angeles Regional Volunteer of the Year for 2019.

“We wouldn’t have won the championship without him,” Dao added.

For Zubair, it’s about more than winning the competition. He wants to give students practical experience in engineering work and encourage them to pursue careers in the field.

“I can look back and say I helped that student in their path to coming here and now they are contributing to society,” said Zubair. “Personally, that is where I find my reward.”

Dao credits his time with the Vitruvian Bots for preparing him to become an engineer.

When he started his career at the company, said Dao, "all that experience really helped me excel at my job. My co-workers were surprised at how quickly I picked up on a lot of things.”

When Zubair was a kid, he recalls wanting to travel through the stars and be at the forefront of technology, flying through space. “My young mind trying to put something tangible around a desire to develop new technology to push human innovation, to push science,” said Zubair, as he embarked on his engineering career.

Later in life, Zubair started the Vitruvian Bots robotics team as his way to pay it back.

“I wanted to take the opportunities that I’ve had, and expand it to others to help bring more people into the field,” he said. “We are not only building robots, we are building people.”