Nate Bernard hopes his recent participation in a national robotics competition will help sway his pending application to the school of his dreams — Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Bernard, a senior at Whittier Regional High, will update his application by explaining how the computer programming code he helped write successfully controlled a basketball-sized robot floating in zero gravity inside the International Space Station. His code caused the robot to maneuver around virtual obstacles and pick up virtual objects in the world’s first robotics competition in space. It was tested by NASA astronauts twice, right in front of his eyes.
“It’s pretty exciting seeing what you wrote working in space,” he said about the Zero Robotics competition finals he took part in on Feb. 11 at MIT.
Bernard, 18, is captain of Haverhill’s Access21 Robotics Team, a Haverhill High group he joined in seventh grade as a student at Hunking Middle School. He remembers the day a senior taught him how to use programming language.
“I was pretty excited about it,” he said.
During freshman year at Whittier, Bernard was a programming captain. He also builds and programs robots for Botball competitions, which this year were modeled after the Curiosity robot that landed on Mars. Two years ago, his success at Botball sent him to California to participate in the Global Conference on Educational Robotics.
This is the second year students in the Access21 program competed in Zero Robotics, and the first time the team made it to the finals.
“I’ve always liked to build things,” he said.
School officials said they believe if Bernard is accepted to MIT, he will be the first Whittier student to go there.
Bernard has fond memories of working with his grandfather, the late Robert Bernard, who taught him about household tools at a young age and had Nate assist him as he repaired the snow blower and lawnmower.