Humans of Harker: The world inside the lab

Fostering communication, Pranav Gupta ensures the gears of both the robotics team and the robot turn smoothly


Esha Gohil

“Knowing how to work with people, knowing how to talk to people and understanding the whole teamwork aspect is really important, especially in robotics, where everyone has a job to do. If one of these units fails, the whole thing comes apart,” Pranav Gupta (12) said.

Pranav Gupta (12) fondly remembers one of his first robotics competitions, the World Championship in 2019. The immense area that was laid out was astounding, with massive futuristic pillars and over 10 rows of seats for spectators in each field. Between the competition areas, hundreds of robots from around the world were being tested for the tournament.

“Going there as a freshman, the sheer scale of the entire event compared to the regional events, it was mind-blowing,” Pranav said. “You walk into that stadium, seeing six full size fields lined up next to each other. It stuck with me because I want that feeling again. ”

Pranav discovered his interest during middle school, when he participated in Lego robotics. Although he initially found the most joy in hanging out with his friends, Pranav soon realized that he had a love for building robots.

“I had already enjoyed working with Legos, that whole designing process,” Pranav said. “That came to me immediately. I became more in love with the whole physical fabrication of things.”

Pranav joined the Harker robotics team in his freshman year, wanting to further explore the manufacturing process after his experience in middle school. Although he wasn’t required to have any time commitment, he wanted to be part of the process of building a machine that would later compete, leading him to be in the lab for up to 20 hours a week.

Now, as the Mechanical Co-Director of Harker Robotics, Pranav manages the building process for the robot. Above all else, Pranav values teamwork and communication, principles which robotics is built upon. Without proper communication, the team can never create a functional robot.

“Knowing how to work with people, knowing how to talk to people and understanding the whole teamwork aspect is really important, especially in robotics, where everyone has a job to do,” Pranav said. “And if one of these units fails, the whole thing comes apart.”

In one of his first sessions of robotics, Pranav met close friend and now-robotics team president Ethan Cao (12). During the robotics competitions, they often worked together, with Pranav being the driver and Ethan working inside the pit.

“[Pranav] was a really funny guy; he was always very happy and cheerful,” Ethan said. “He is a really great leader. He does a really great job of keeping everyone up to date and making sure everyone has something to do.”

Close friend and robotics teammate Laurie Jin (11) also values Pranav’s humor. They first met during the build season of Robotics at night, and her impression of his personality has stuck since.

“One time, we went to Santana Row together, and we just hung out,” Laurie said. “We didn’t necessarily do anything, but walking around and talking together made those moments special. He’s still a child at heart, in a mature way. He feels free to let out his inner child. He isn’t scared that he is going to be judged. He prioritizes being himself.”

Since he once was a freshman member of robotics, he enjoys watching the sophomores and freshmen make small mistakes in constructing the robot. He understands that without mistakes, they would never learn how to better build robots.

“It’s fun seeing people mess up,” Pranav said. “People realize that, and it’s fun to see growth like this. So you make a happy accident, and you can replace [that part].”

During the past year, Pranav has been unable to recreate the feeling he experienced from his first World Championship due to the cancellation of the last two competitions. Still, Pranav enjoyed the ones he attended.

“Getting to spend that weekend with the people you’ve worked with for the past six or seven months, it’s a really gratifying feeling, seeing the robot compete and perform up to the level it can,” Pranav said. “It’s really fun hanging out with friends. It’s a fun weekend away from school.”

Upper school economics teacher Sam Lepler watched Pranav grow, asking more questions and participating more, even when mainly teaching over Zoom. Pranav has been a nearly perfect student according to Lepler, who taught Pranav in Game Theory.

“It was fun to watch him get excited and point fingers and emote,” Lepler said. “And that is exactly what I’m looking for in a student in that class, that kind of emotion and excitement.”

Pranav intends on pursuing a career in robotics, especially because he envisions robotics and artificial intelligence as the future of our society. With more tasks becoming automated, he wonders about dilemmas that will appear in his professional career.

“One of the things that is really interesting about the field is, how far do we push this, because there are real moral and ethical dilemmas that come with robots replacing humans jobs,” Pranav said. “It is really important to understand that there is a limit on how far we can take things, and we still need to be involved. It’s going to be interesting to see how far this stuff develops, in the next 10 to 20 years, which is going to be my professional career.”