Cameron Schiller ’18 approached the garage door, took a deep breath, and opened it slowly with his heart accelerating. Inside, there were no cars, no old boxes, no ordinary household objects at all. Instead, the ground, ceiling and walls were filled with infinite amounts of silver. His garage is a lab, where machines are molded into mobile creatures of metal.
Click. Beep. Bop. Bzzz. Boom. These are the sounds Schiller have heard everyday since he was three. It started with Legos, those plastic blocks that every kid plays with. Except those piles of plastic weren’t useless toys for him. They were his building blocks into the world of engineering.
Building Block one. As he entered the library of Saint Francis High School, looking for his brother, he came across a table, not full of books, but scattered with the same pieces of silver that lie in his garage today. Through his trip to the library, he found himself in a lab, where he joined his brother’s robotics team.
Block two. At Mayfield Junior School, he formed his own robotics team of one. He encouraged his classmates to join, but no one did. He was all on his own. His school was equally unsupportive, he said, so not only did he lack partners, but he was also missing a lab room, gadgets and funding. However, Schiller was able to transform his garage into a lab through the support of his father, and was able to buy all of the gadgets he needed to build up his dream.
“Over and over, Cameron would read or hear about Google, Apple, Tesla, Facebook… Cameron saw robotics as the future… Because of this and because he was so passionate, we decided to get behind him and support him. The results were astounding, ” his father, Dean Schiller said.
Block three. 2012. Anaheim, California. Thirty-two countries. Ten thousand teams. He raced through to the VEX Robotics Worlds.
Block four. 2013. Anaheim California. Thirty-two countries. Ten thousand teams. He made it to Worlds once more.
Block five. 2014. Louisville, Kentucky. Thirty-two countries. Ten thousand teams. Making it to Worlds was not a difficult feat, said Schiller. He’s done it two times, and this time, he was determined to become champion. Turns out, third time’s the charm. First round. He scored 63 points. He beat almost every team in the world. But next to him sat the New Zealand team, which also scored 63 points.
“It’s really nerve-wracking. You’ve got one minute and you have to get everything perfect to win. Everything has to work,” he explained a year later. “If you’re one second too slow on something, you’ve lost.”
He shook the nervous burden off his shoulders and got ready for round two, the tiebreaker. He started pressing buttons on his remote control and he stared intently at his creation, moving across. Everything had to be perfect. He looked at the timer, there were only ten seconds left. Nine, eight, seven…
He spent three months, practicing over and over for this match. It needed to be perfect.
Six, Five, Four, Three
“Wow. Am I actually going to win this? I’m a team of one…Wow. I’m actually going to win this. That’s crazy,” he exclaimed.
Two, One, Bzzz. He looked up at the scoreboard, 63 points, again. He looked at his opponent’s score. 62. He stood victorious.
“I won two trophies, a banner and a free ticket to Worlds next year… But I think the biggest prize was the opportunity to meet other people like me,” he said.
Block six. In Munger 202, the school robotics lab, Schiller stands with a glue gun in one hand, and a Styrofoam block in the other. He hums tunes to himself while gluing pieces of unknown materials. He’s now in a Harvard-Westlake team of multiple people. Friends. Classmates. Partners who share his passion for robotics. His team is working diligently everyday to produce another metal creation.
“Cameron’s presence is key… He keeps us going with his motivated style and always has new ideas for the team. He keeps us working hard and on our toes,” team partner Jonathan Damico ’18 explains.
As Schiller fiddles away with his gears and tools, he takes another step. This time, onto block seven and the next blocks into his future, where he hopes to use his skills he obtained from his previous blocks to become an entrepreneur.