Cameron Schiller ’18 drives towards another robotics championship

Cameron Schiller ’18 drives towards another robotics championship

Cameron Schiller '18 works on his robot, preparing it for the next VEX world robotics competition. Credit: Maddy Daum/Chronicle

Cameron Schiller ’18 spends two hours everyday after school, countless weekends and breaks working on his robot with his teammates. He designs, builds and drives his seven-foot-tall creations, hoping for another win on April 20-23 at the next VEX Robotics World Championship.

Having competed in robotics for five years, he began on his brother’s team at St. Francis High School in Los Angeles. He eventually branched off and created his own one-person team, where he created the robot that would win him best driver and robot in the world at the VEX Robotics World Championship. After merging his team with Harvard-Westlake’s, he continued to compete in regional competitions.

As a kid, he spent his free time doing what many boys do: playing with Legos. At the age of eight, he built the Millennium Falcon, a set made for 16-year-olds comprising of 10,000 pieces. However, in an effort to push him to play sports, his parents tried to place him in AYSO soccer.

“He would be out in the middle of the field sitting down looking at the clovers. The ball would go shooting past him, and I knew sports wasn’t for him” said his father, Dean Schiller. 

Continuing on from his early experience with Legos, he competed with his brother’s robotics team for two years. When he had gained his footing, he decided to start his own team.

“Nobody at my middle school wanted to [start a robotics team], so I decided to just go for it anyways by myself,” Schiller said. “I initially started with almost no support both financially and physically. It’s really difficult to be an independent one man team versus other teams of upwards 30 kids.”

At the beginning, he competed as an independent team in tournaments held year-round at regional, state, and national levels. In order to cope with the financial aspect, Solid Works sponsored him. His dad also continually supported him, he said. He perfected his robot over 1,200 hours: designing, prototyping, and driving in preparation for the VEX worlds competition last year.

“[The robotics teams] compete for three days during worlds and it comes down to a final standoff,” Dean Schiller said. “He starts early in the morning, he almost doesn’t eat, almost doesn’t go to the bathroom. He comes home and works, getting only three to four hours of sleep per night.”

In a 60 second round, he won best driver and robot in the world. His robot was still on the field when the judges calculated his score.

“I knew that I was in first place because I saw my ranking, I was just waiting for them to announce it,” he said. “I did something that only a select amount of elite robotics teams get to even dream about. And I did it with one person-myself.”

Schiller stood in a stadium with thousands of people watching. Around him were 10,000 other teams of  juniors and seniors that he had just beaten.

“The feeling you get when you know that in that moment that you are one of the best drivers in the world is indescribable,” Schiller said. “It took a few days to realize what I had actually done.”

Once he came to Harvard-Westlake in ninth grade he knew he wanted to combine his team with the school team to create more of a challenge. Working with others would allow him to collaborate and practice management to prepare him for the future.

Brandon Porter ’18 met Schiller while they were both flying planes on the field, and they have since started the Flight Club at school, another outlet to build machines from scratch. They frequently work together for the club, and Porter soon after joined the combined robotics team.

“Cameron is a great leader,” Porter said. “He has a lot of experience from working on other [robotics teams]. He is definitely influential in the success of the robotics team because he knows how to get everyone to work together.” 

Schiller and the robotics team have already started competing in tournaments this season. Their goal is to make it to worlds again — this time with Harvard-Westlake’s name on the trophy.

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