Senior Zack Gromko’s robot solves Rubik’s Cube; breaks Guinness World Record

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Senior Zack Gromko’s robot that broke the Guinness World Record for solving the Rubik’s Cube.

Not everyone can say that they know a Guinness World Record holder who built a robot to solve the Rubik’s Cube. But many students at Saint Stephen’s can. Senior Zack Gromko, a Falcon since 4th grade, accomplished this feat this past October in Saint Stephen’s Hoagland Arena on October 15, 2015.

“Zack is a wonderful young man who is very, very smart, very, very kind, and always has a wry grin on his face,” said Upper School Director Andrew Forrester.

Gromko has always felt a strong connection to math and science. His love for math began in eighth grade, when he flipped open a calculus textbook and decided to learn the math concepts by himself. “I feel like my interest in the sciences just builds off of my interest in math: the more numbers there are, the more I like it,” Gromko said.

Head of School Dr. Jan Pullen said that Zack has always had a curious mind and loved learning. “Now he’s old enough to make the choices of where he likes to learn, so it has been fun to watch where those interests are,” said Pullen.

Gromko has been solving Rubik’s Cubes competitively for about seven years, when he took interest in the “fewest-move challenges” (competitions to solve the cube using the least number of turns). He said that he wanted his computer physically solving the cubes instead of merely providing a solution for him to use.

“After watching the world-record robot, I knew I wanted to build one,” Gromko said.

He explained that the initial record-holding robot did not appear too complex, as it had four arms and one camera, leaving several adjustments to the cube. “I wanted the robot to at least be able to beat me, but after I got one of the motors, I saw it could make a turn in roughly 0.06 seconds; I was pretty confident I could take the record,” Gromko said.

Gromko’s inspiration of constructing his very first robot stemmed from his grandfather’s help and support. “His skill in metalworking was imperative in welding such a well-calibrated frame and appropriately-sized aluminum arms. Not only that, he also contributed to its financing,” Gromko said.

The results are exciting to see, but not everyone knows how much work goes into a project like this one. It took about three weeks to program the robot and four to five months to physically build it. “I started with the programming work, just because the project originally wasn’t tied to a robot. The most difficult portion was actually using the two cameras to stitch together two images of the cube and parse that into a 3D representation. Then, I bought a motor just to see how quickly it could turn the cube,” Gromko said.

Gromko has always felt a strong connection to math and science. His love for math began in eighth grade, when he flipped open a calculus textbook and decided to learn the math concepts by himself.”

After further calculations, Gromko had no doubt that the robot could beat the record. “I started designing the tilted aluminum cube that acted as the frame. It was largely aluminum L-[shaped] pieces. Once everything was welded, it was just a matter of adjusting every screw for calibration and running the wires,” Gromko explained.

Throughout the process, Gromko had to carefully manage his time in order to tend to many other activities. “Between a job, college apps, research, school, five clubs, and college classes, I really wasn’t sure I was going to be able to keep all of my commitments. Quite simply, I worked as long as I needed to [on the robot] and, for a while, gave up everything else,” Gromko said.

After a period of his unfaltering dedication to his project, the time came when he finished his construction and was able to share his masterpiece with the school, and more importantly, the Guinness World Records association.

Saint Stephen’s students and faculty convened in the gymnasium this past October to witness the jaw-dropping event, creating an excited and supportive atmosphere, all in hope that Zack would succeed.

“I was so excited to see everybody cheering, clapping, shouting and supporting Zack,” Forrester said.

Gromko said that during the actual preparation of the robot in the gym, he “didn’t have any particularly strong feelings,” adding that every time he assembled the robot for a presentation, “it failed to work until the very last minute.”

“That day, I had been working on it when a FOX News reporter showed up, pulled up a chair, set her camera, and watched me troubleshoot for two nerve-racking hours. It wasn’t long before the event that I found an issue with the calibration in my code that would have completely prevented it from working,” Gromko said.

He remembered a similar moment when he was on the set of Good Morning Tampa Bay, where before going live he had to make final adjustments.

“After that was sorted, I really just felt relieved. I was glad to get through it. I enjoyed the project, but showing it off was kind of a chore,” he said.

Looking into the future for Zack’s robot, he said that some adjustments may be made if his current record gets beaten.”

Regarding the moment when Gromko was attempting to break the world record at school, he said he felt disappointed. “The official time was 2.39 seconds, but I know that this robot is very capable of a 1.6 second solve,” Gromko said.

Nevertheless, Gromko still successfully broke the world record for solving the Rubik’s Cube with a robot. “What we hope for is for students to think outside of the box and take what we teach at Saint Stephen’s and see where [students] can apply their knowledge,” Pullen said. “I was excited to see someone’s dream become a reality. I was very, very proud of him for the reason that when you have a dream and you work really hard and the dream comes true, then you are just so happy for them.”

Looking into the future for Zack’s robot, he said that some adjustments may be made if his current record gets beaten. He added that “with some additional changes, it might be possible to achieve a sub-1 second solve.”

“Frankly, I don’t feel the need for this until my record is challenged. If I were to build a similar robot, I think I would design one more similar to the previous record holder’s. It’s comparatively simple to just plop a cube in and have it solved without having to retract three arms,” Gromko said.

Regarding the construction of new robots, Zack said he was planning to build a CNC machine, (a machine used for cutting solid materials like wood or plastic steel) saying that this would make it easier for him to create additional projects.

Forrester said that it’s a great honor to have Zack among us.

“He really is just so kind and so caring, yet so humble in what he does. I think we can all take a lesson from that and really try our best to do what we’re interested in to the best of our abilities, as well as challenge ourselves. I think everybody can take that lesson from Zack.”