The excitement in the air was palpable as a wooden robot darted in between desks in Rebecca Greenfeld’s classroom. Students and Greenfeld stopped short of bouncing with excitement, but their faces beamed with pride — and with good reason.
Brewster High School’s Robotics Club is set to be the first-ever Brewster team to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition. This weekend, the Cybearbots and Greenfeld, their advisor, are headed to Rockland Community College for the three-day Hudson Valley Regional, which is the culmination of an intense six-week build season.
The FIRST Robotics Competition, which is a self-described “ultimate Sport for the Mind,” encourages teams of high school students to collaborate, adapt, and use critical thinking skills in a very specific way. In January, under strict rules and a six-week time limit, teams are challenged to design, build, and test a robot that meets the challenges set forth by FIRST. The challenge also includes adhering to a budget, raising funds, and designing a brand.
“In the competition you have a series of tasks which includes moving a ball, driving on to platforms and such,” explained team member Akshay Gupta. “In response to the tasks, we built a robot. It’s capable of doing things like ascending a platform, seizing a disc and pulling it out.”
“As you can see, this is all built by us,” he added. “We had to cut the wood. We had to wire the pneumatics and circuits. We had to CAD it out and program it. The arms were 3D printed using our school 3D printer.” (Click here to view a video of the production process.)
With help from physics teacher Peter LaMoreaux, the club received a $6,000 NASA Rookie grant, which covered their registration fee for the competition. The Cybearbots then had to raise money for supplies for their robot, which could cost a maximum of $4,500.
“Obviously, this doesn’t come free,” said Anthony Ayala. “We also need support. And we’ve gotten some support from businesses in the area.” Lamothermic, a precision casting foundry that supplies parts to the aerospace and medical industries, among others, and DGI, a computer program management firm that does programming, hardware, software, pulling wire, installations and more, are two of the team’s biggest sponsors.
While there have been some hiccups, they’re learning about the process as they go.
“There are a lot of difficulties the first year,” Andrew Gallo said. “We’re just trying to figure out how everything is going to work and how everything is going to work out for future years.”
The team is already thinking of setting up a pipeline of sorts from the lower schools to prepare future Cybearbots team members.
“We’re planning on having a four-year initiative where we go down to the lower schools and start up lower league teams,” Gupta explained. “Next year we were thinking about starting up a FIRST Tech Challenge team at the middle school so that middle schoolers will have the opportunity to truly get a hand in the engineering process.”
For now, the focus is on this year and the upcoming competition.
“As a first-year team, we’ve had a lot of bumps,” Nico Kusterer said. “Every single time, we learn and that’s the whole point. It’s not about the robot. It’s about the team. It’s about learning. It’s about doing everything together. It’s a project management experiment.”
The club, which is made up of 15 to 20 members, is broken up into smaller teams.
“Most FIRST teams are divided into separate teams,” Kusterer explained. “You have the scouting team that looks into past events and sees how robots are done. There’s a building team, a design team.”
Breaking the team up into smaller groups helped make the whole process more manageable. “We all have something to do,” said Kusterer. “We report to our leader and then our leader reports to our advisor.” They also have help from mentors, including Erik and Liz Brillon and Steve Gallo, as well as Carmel’s robotics team.
“Carmel has an established team,” Brendan Fox explained. While Brewster has a state-of-the-art Innovation Center and a 3D printer at the high school, there were some things the students needed. “We needed a metal and woodworking shop to get some of the construction done,” Fox continued. “So the Carmel team allowed us to come in to their shop on Saturdays when they’re working and we spend the whole day there.” Fox went on to say how grateful the team is for the support of Carmel’s team.
“It’s a great example of how, even though it’s a competition to get the best robot, there’s a collaborative community,” Ayala added. “It’s a friendly competition that facilitates a more communitive vibe.”
“When we started the club, it seemed very challenging, building a robot from scratch,” Kusterer said.
“But it offers a lot to the students,” Gupta pointed out. “It’s fun to put parts together and teaches students a lot about components, learning to build, design, program. You have to learn to collaborate. You have to adapt to the challenge.” While the club is extra-curricular, it’s worth noting that all of the district’s Strategic Coherence Plan skills are incorporated into this team and what they’ve accomplished so far.
The Cybearbots are proud of what they’ve built together and Greenfeld is too.
“This is this group’s legacy,” she said. “Our hope is that we’ll get our name out there and more people will come and actually mentor the students so that they’ll get that bond with people who are in the field.”