Tag Archives: robotics

Robotics Team Heads To Worlds — And Helps World

Westport’s i² robotics team is going to the world championship.

That’s great news for the 9 Staples High School students, who designed, built and programmed an actual robot. This year’s challenge involved a mountain rescue. The  i² crew racked up points by forming alliances to reset mountain beacons, deliver mini-rescue climbers to a shelter, and simulate other outdoor-type stuff indoors — robotically, of course.

It’s also good news for anyone who realizes that a good chunk of our global future will depend on men and women who have honed their engineering skills, are inspired to innovate, and can think both logically and creatively.

i2's robot, named "Aether."

i2’s robot, named “Aether.”

We wish the  i² robotics team good luck on April 27-30, when they compete for the First Tech Challenge world title in St. Louis.

But that’s not what this post is about.

One of the mottos of FIRST — the non-profit organization that offers mentor-programs like robotics — is that it’s about more than just robots.

The Westport team has taken that to heart. A major mission is to reach out locally — and further — to teach and support other students, in the areas of STEM (science, technology, education and math).

Earlier this year,  i² helped Bassick High School in Bridgeport form their own team. i² raised $7,000 for the Tech Lions. $3,500 came from Westport’s Sunrise Rotary Club.

The Westporters have met with their nearby counterparts several times, helping them prepare for competitions. It worked: the Tech Lions advanced to the state championships, where they captained the 3rd-place alliance and finished 5th after qualification matches.

i² co-captain Julia Schorr calls the partnership “incredibly rewarding.” And, she says, “we learned a lot from them as well.”

Staples' i2 robotics team and the Bassick Tech Lions, working together.

Staples’ i2 robotics team and the Bassick Tech Lions, working together.

The Westporters also hosted a scrimmage and fundraiser at Staples. They collected over $3,000, plus 4 FIRST Lego League kits. That enabled a Haitian organization to run a championship, and send a team to the FLLL World Festival in St. Louis.

i² and the Haiti group look forward to meeting in St. Louis.

Staples and all of Westport should be inspired by  i². Robotics leaders already are.

At the regional championship in Scranton, Pennsylvania in March,  i² won the Inspire Award. It’s a major honor, given to the team that’s the best role model for others.

And that’s something that no robot could ever do.

The i2 robotics team. They're not usually so serious.

The i2 robotics team. They’re not usually so serious.

(Team members include Ben Davis, Theo Davis, Annie Gau, Joe Montuoro, Greg Preiser, Luke Sauer, Peter Sauer, Julia Schorr and Phoebe Spear. To learn more about the i² robotics team, click here. For a recap of the Connecticut state championship, click below.)

Peter Sauer’s Robots And Writings

First Lego League is a robotics competition. But cooperation among competing teams is encouraged. In fact, points are awarded for helping rivals out.

Peter Sauer

Peter Sauer

Peter Sauer is racking up huge points. The Staples High School freshman wrote a book that explains everything from the rules of the competition to exactly how to build a better robot. In other words, it’s a blueprint for beating his own team.

That’s fine. Peter loves everything robotic. The more people he can help share his passion, the better.

Last year Peter, his younger brother Luke, his father and a few friends constructed a robot with wheels, motors and sensors. They entered a contest whose theme was “How to Improve Life for Seniors.” Peter’s robot functioned as an automatic pill dispenser.

As impressive as that was, Peter wanted to do more. When Apple introduced its iBooks Author program — enabling anyone to create interactive textbooks, filled with galleries, video, diagrams, 3D objects, mathematical expressions and more — Peter realized he could bring robotics to the masses.

He did not know much about book design — but iBooks made it easy.

A screenshot from Peter's book. He designed it all himself.

A screenshot from Peter’s book. He designed it all himself.

His FLL Handbook — complete with animations, and a fun interactive quiz after every chapter — was aimed at middle school students. Version 2.0 — recently published — is for high schoolers.

It’s a big hit, with copies sold in countries far beyond the US.

Peter’s team recently placed 1st in state competition.

That’s no surprise. He literally wrote the book on robotics.

Take That, Bode Miller!

For nearly 2 weeks we’ve watched snowboarders soar, speed skaters fly, and curlers do whatever it is they do.

It’s been a great spectacle — particularly if you enjoy watching sports several hours late on tape delay, even though they are being held on the exact same continent where you live.

But exciting events are not confined to athletics.  Five Staples students discovered that last Sunday — in the regional FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition, at Pace University.

All day long the 5 — Haris Durrani, Jehangir Hafiz, Eric Lubin, Todd Lubin and Tim Yang — struggled.  They faced — and overcame — a variety of mechanical and technological challenges, and finished the qualifying rounds in 4th place.

Tank Aaron (from left): Eric Lubin, Tim Yang, Todd Lubin, Jehangir Hafiz and Haris Durrani.

In the championship round, “Tank Aaron” — they named their team after the famous baseball player — faced a pair of New Jersey squads.  The Westporters’ controllers began to malfunction.  In the finals — a best-of-3-games series — they won their 1st game, then lost as the other robots ganged up on theirs.

In the 3rd game of the 3rd match, they had just 2 minutes and 30 seconds to fight their way to the World Championship in Atlanta — or go home.  Tank Aaron was virtually scoreless the entire time, as their opponents fought to keep the high-scoring robot from shooting Wiffle balls into scoring areas outside the field.

As the clock hit 15 seconds, Tank Aaron shot from the middle of the field — a risky and seemingly impossible shot.  Balls poured into the outfield scoring area for the next 5 seconds.  The New Jerseyans were so shocked they forgot to maintain control of their robot, so Tank pushed closer toward the goal.

Even more balls scored in the next 5 seconds.  By the final 5, the crowd was on its feet, screaming.  Tank Aaron won — and they’re headed to The Big Dance in April.

Tank Aaron (right) beat that poser #3817, with plenty of balls to spare.

“It was too close for comfort,” Haris said a couple of days later — still stunned by the finish.  The team had met for 7-8 hours a day — sometime until 2 a.m. — every day for the previous week.

Their hard work paid off.   They even were named finalists for the Innovate Award for creative and consistent robot design.

Now the real work begins.  Tank Aaron plans to improve the robot, from head to toe.

So the 5 robotics team members still won’t have time to watch even a minute of skiing,  hockey or — damn it! — curling.

Who cares?  Robotics competitions are far tougher.

And more dramatic.

Staples Robotics Team #2 In The World

In only its 2nd year of existence, the Staples robotics team is 2nd in the world.

The Wreckers team and their robot — Shaquille O’Steel — demolished big-time opponents throughout 2 days of grueling competitions in the First Tech Challenge at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.  Over 10,000 spectators watched the high school students roll over teams sponsored by — get this — NASA, MIT, Princeton and Stanford.

As the Staples upstarts quickly gained the respect of judges, referees and spectators, they raced into the finals of the FTC World Championship against Canada’s Alberta Longhorns.  The Georgia Dome rocked as the Wreckers won the first game.  But the northerners took the next two, to earn the title.

Staples is now the #2 high school robotics team in the world. Over 1,100 squads competed, from 25 countries. 

The breathtaking run comes on the heels of the Wreckers’ Massachusetts regional title (where they defeated the MIT labs’ high school team), the New York regional championship (where they downed Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant), and the Connecticut tournament (where they also won an award for best engineered robot).

CNN and NBC have called the events “The Super Bowl of Smarts.”  Each tournament features competitions, such as robots removing colored hockey pucks from a rack and placing them in various locations on a playing field. 

Team members spend over 15 hours a week improving their design. Shaq O’Steel includes an oversized carrying bin, rear stabilization bar, side accuracy flaps, frontal accuracy flap and wheel technology.

Interestingly, all team members are sophomores.  They got involved in robotics last year because, as freshmen, they could not crack Staples’ engineering team.

Congratulations to Harris Durrani, Jehangir Hafiz, Eric Lubin, Todd Lubin and Timothy Yang.  You’re #2 in the world — and #1 in Westporters’ hearts.

And this just in:  Due to budget cuts, the entire robotics curriculum may be eliminated next year.