Robot Permitted to Compete on a Saturday

Mar 19, 2011   //   by Eliana   //   Blogs, Robot & Team  //  No Comments

This week our team got the exciting news that we will be allowed to compete on a Saturday if we make it to the Elimination Round of the World Championship in St. Louis. The issue was that our team is connected with our school which is a pluralistic Jewish school. Being pluralistic means that the school welcomes kids for all kinds of Jewish backgrounds and beliefs because it accepts people from all denominations. We have kids in our school who are many varieties of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstuctionist, non-affiliated, and secular. The current members of our team are ok competing and working on Shabbat but people of stricter observance in our school Jewish community would not be comfortable doing robotics related tasks on Shabbat (Saturday-the Jewish Sabbath). Our principal has been very understanding. The current policy at Gann is that no team or individual can compete on a Saturday representing Gann Academy. We are thankful to Lincoln Labs for sponsoring and running a regional competition in Arlington on a Sunday that we could attend. Then we went to the New York State Competition in Hudson Valley which was also on a Sunday. We qualified for the Massachusetts State Competition but it took place on a Saturday. We are grateful that we were allowed to compete in New York, one of three Sunday state competitions in the country. Then we had to deal with the Shabbat problem. The St. Louis competition runs for four days and the last day, Saturday, is for the Elimination Round. If we make it that far, which is our goal, we wouldn’t want to have to give up our spot because the competition is on a Saturday. We are working on programming our robot to be fully autonomous so that we won’t have to drive it if we compete on a Saturday. We hope it will work and have put lots of time and energy into working on making the robot autonomous. Even if the robot was fully autonomous, our team would still be competing and so we needed a decision from our headmaster about whether or not we would be allowed to compete in any form on Shabbat. Rabbi Baker, our principal, has spent a huge amount of time talking with different people about their opinions on what we should be permitted to do on Shabbat. Our team has met with Rabbi Baker to address our concerns and to understand all of the factors playing into his decision.

The decision was made that we will be able compete on a Saturday autonomously or with another team driving our robot if we fulfill a list of conditions. This is great news! Basically the conditions are to ensure that anyone from our community would feel comfortable joining the robotics team even if they are Shabbat observant. This is valuable because we do not want to exclude people because they might have a stronger religious practice. We will not be allowed to drive the robot ourselves or fix anything that breaks on the robot on Saturday until Shabbat is over. Similar to the school’s shabbatons, we are required to have some celebration of Shabbat. Right now some parents are working on coordinating Shabbos dinner for all the families on Friday night. It should be fun to celebrate Shabbat as a team. Hopefully we will make it to the elimination round and get to show off our autonomous robot. I would just like to thank everyone, especially Rabbi Baker, who spend time going over all sides of this dilemma and coming up with an appropriate solution. I think the final solution is successful in not making our time follow the strictest observance and not compete in any form at all, but also in not letting us disregard Shabbat.

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