The devil was in the details of modifying El Diablo.
Henry Naguski and his teammates knew they had to work quickly to fix their entry if they wanted to score points in the regional VEX Robotics Competition.
“We didn’t realize at the end of the match, they cut off power to the motors,” said Naguski, 18, of Boiling Springs.
The Harrisburg Academy senior had started the team his freshman year with the help of two friends and his computer science teacher. Every year, they build a robot to perform a different set of challenges during each season of competition.
One year the robot could earn the team points if it could grab a PVC pipe and hang suspended about a foot off the floor. The flaw in their design was the function depended on a continual flow of electricity.
“When they cut power, it would just fall back down and not hang anymore,” Naguski said. “We had to design a way for it to keep itself up. That was really stressful.”
To stay in the running, the Harrisburg Academy team had 15 to 20 minutes between matches to work out and execute a solution.
“When we figured that out, it was awesome,” Naguski said. “We had one of the few robots that could do it.”
A tinkerer since boyhood, the soon-to-be high school graduate plans to pursue a degree in electrical or computer engineering at the University of Vermont or Montana State University.
“Since I was a little kid, I’ve always been interested in taking things apart and seeing how they work,” the Harrisburg native said. “I find it very interesting the decisions people make when they design electronics. The ways they go about it, the clever tricks they do to make things work.”
Growing up, Naguski experimented on old radios and printers. More recently, he has taken up the restoration of retro computers. Since eighth grade, Naguski has been enrolled in sound engineering classes offered through the Immersed in Music program at the Londonderry School near Harrisburg.
A music fan, he was drawn to the artistic and technical side of sound. Each year Immersed in Music ends with a final project to record and mix an album of tunes performed by bands that have gone through the program.
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“It’s fun to take input from the band to figure out what they want and then make it sound good to my ear,” Naguski said. “It’s a good dynamic to have to figure out the middle ground so we’re both happy with it.”
His passion for sound engineering took a turn the summer of 2017 when Naguski was invited to help his uncle in New York City record the audio track for a Hollywood movie. “I got to see how it works in the real world,” he said. “I got to be on set every day for a week.”
Most of his time was spent helping to move equipment and watching his uncle interact with the actors and the production crew. At the end of each day, his uncle gave the audio track to a video technician to synchronize the sound to the action.
One day, Naguski was almost part of the action. A technical glitch cut off communications between his uncle and the technician working the boom microphone. His uncle dispatched Naguski to walk onto the set between takes and relay a message to the technician.
“I let the assistant know,” Naguski said. “I didn’t know where to go from there. I thought about walking back. Then some random person grabbed me and moved me out of the way.”
It turned out the production crew was getting ready to film again.
“That was kind of embarrassing but it taught me to look around and make sure I know where I was,” Naguski said. “It was fine. They didn’t mind that much.”
Since ninth grade, he has been involved with the annual musical produced by Harrisburg Academy’s upper school. The music teacher in charge of the production challenged Naguski to use his sound engineering training.
“They didn’t have anyone else to do it,” he said. “I was left on my own to figure everything out. When I first got there, the sound system was lacking to say the least.” The speakers were as old as the school auditorium.
“I was able to make the most of what we had,” Naguski said. “We had a really decent soundboard, some wireless microphones and plenty of cable. I was able to design the sound for the musical really on my own.”
His first production for the Harrisburg Academy was the musical “Into the Woods.” Despite opening night jitters, the sound design went off without a hitch. “I have improved since then,” Naguski said.
Today, he is known throughout the school as the “sound guy”.