Before they were thrust into three weeks’ worth of testing, 34 members of North Shore High School’s robotics team, RoboGym, kept their brains busy with visions of robots. Late last month, the team traveled to Detroit for the national championships of the FIRST Robotics Competition.
Physics teacher Steven Peroni, who has advised the team for the past seven years, called the trip an enhanced learning experience. “When they get there, they see all these top teams from around the world — teams sponsored by NASA, Boeing, Google — who have all these crazy engineers and resources to build amazing machines,” Peroni said. “Our kids get to see that and have the experience of learning from those mentors, as well as the kids on the other teams.”
This was the second time Greenvale resident Bryce Roth, 18, the team’s captain, went to the nationals. “We went when I was a freshman, and that was one of the main experiences that made me really want to try hard in robotics — I wanted to get there again,” Roth said. When the graduating senior found out that the team would once again get to show off its STEM skills on a national stage, he was nothing short of ecstatic. “I almost burst into tears,” he said.
On the first Saturday in January, robotics teams around the world receive a guidebook from FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) detailing the rules and requirements for the competition. Students then have six weeks to design and build an industrial-size robot to compete in alliance-style tournament rounds against other bots. The objective is to accomplish a task in the shortest time while being awarded the most points.
This year, RoboGym was tasked with picking a cube off the ground and placing it on an elevated scale. Team member Hanah Leventhal, 16, a junior from Sea Cliff, explained the team’s process of constructing its robot.
“We break up into groups and begin prototyping ideas, whether it’s in a drawing, or building a design out of rudimentary tools,” Leventhal said. “Then we come back together, go through the designs and pick the most feasible ones that would work together to make the best robot.”
The finished bot included intake arms to harness the cube, an elevator mechanism to lift it up to the scale, a drivetrain to maneuver the device around Detroit’s Cobo Center and a braking system to control the speed of the elevator’s pulleys.
“We made [that] addition to the design in the middle of our regional competition, since there was too much torque [on the elevator mechanism], so the gears were skipping,” Leventhal explained. “It was great, on-the-spot thinking, and the design ended up being better than before.” The regional qualifier was held in mid-April at Hofstra University’s David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex.
Roth said that one of the team’s most notable accomplishments was successfully programming the robot to operate on autopilot. “We made algorithms to program the robot’s autonomous mode so it could put the cube on the scale by itself,” he said. “Before Detroit our team had never gotten autonomous mode to work; this year we were finally able to do it.”
Though RoboGym placed 61st out of 68 teams, the competition wasn’t just about winning for the students. “In the context of things, we were a top-notch robot,” Leventhal said. “For us just to be there was amazing.”
As Roth and Leventhal recounted the team’s efforts, their eyes, and their smiles, widened. Being part of the team is clearly more than just building, designing and dueling with robots. For these students, it’s a second home.
“Not only do I learn in-depth about mechanics and programming, but I’m also building toward an objective with my teammates and my friends,” Roth said. “After you spend five hours a day in the wood shop with these people, you start to get close to them.”
Leventhal noted RoboGym’s shared trust, perseverance and teamwork. “The amount of work everyone puts into it is amazing, and everyone understands that we’re working toward a common goal,” she said. “It really is a family.”
To see a demonstration of the team’s robot, residents can attend RoboGym’s garage sale on Sunday, May 20, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the North Shore High School faculty parking lot.