New York City

In the battle for robot domination, life lessons learned

Teams compete at the FIRST Robotics Competition at Javits Center

March 16, 2015 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Bedford-Stuyvesant robotics team Robo-Rebels. Team members (not in order) include: Alydia Wells, Kiyari Jaundoo, Xaavi Vericain, Amia McDonald, Bahiyah Leito and Melah Lazarus. Photo by Mary Frost
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Alydia Wells, a member of the Bedford-Stuyvesant robotics team Robo-Rebels, sponsored by DIVAS for Social Justice, says she learned something important while competing at the FIRST Robotics Competition.

“When you have a big idea to change something, you should do something about it,” she said.

Teammate Kiyari Jaundoo, who wants to be an artist and an engineer, said her takeaway was “creativity is inspirational.”

Robo-Rebels was one of 160 teams competing in this weekend’s New York City FIRST Robotics Regional Competition at the Javits Center. Students and their hand-built robots traveled to New York City from across the Tri-State area plus Brazil, China, Turkey and the UK.

Teams competed on three levels. Elementary and middle-school students put their toaster-size LEGO robots to the test on table-top courses. At the high school level, students battled with custom-built robots the size of hotel luggage carts.

During the matches, supporters chanted, waved posters and, in one case, supplied a horn section.

The Marine Park I.S. 278 Robotics Team, with a proud coach Bruce Gamsey as king.Bruce Gamsey, coach of the Marine Park I.S. 278 Robotics Team told the Brooklyn Eagle his team did phenomenally. “They did great on their presentation and core values, which means sportsmanship. I’m proud of them.”

He said the team members met every morning at 7:15 a.m. “They’re dedicated, highly motivated students.”

Gamsey wore a crown and king’s mantle as he relaxed with his students after the competition. “It helps build teamwork,” he laughed.

Saranii Muller, coach of Fort Greene Prep’s Nanowolves and Lady Wolves robotics teams, said team members “learned to push through when things don’t go the way they want them to.”

A little LEGO robot.

She divided the middle school students into girls and boys teams because of their different styles. “They feel more comfortable,” she said. “It’s proved to be really successful; there’s friendly competition.”

She added, “The girls are really crushing it this year.”

“By offering these programs to students, they get the opportunity to get their hands on ways to apply their technology and science skills, solve problems and have fun,” Pat Daly, NYC FIRST Regional Director, told the Eagle.

“It makes them want to learn more — to learn how to make the robots do things they didn’t do last time. They also learn teamwork and how to work together. Programs like ours excite kids,” she said. “A lot of them go on to careers in technology.

Even if kids don’t make a career out of technology, she said, “They still learn entrepreneurship and other life skills that are going to improve them no matter what.”


High school Level: Recycle Rush

Downtown Brooklyn’s George Westinghouse Career and Technical Ed High School’s G-House Pirates, with robot number 354, rear, emerged a winner with the best robot design.The theme for this year’s high school-level competition was Recycle Rush. In a two-and-a-half-minute frenzy, robots scored points by scooping up recycling totes and containers and stacking them on top of each other.

More points were earned by disposing of “litter,” represented by pool noodles thrown at random onto the playing field. Teams earned even more points if they coordinated with an opposing team to stack totes.

Brooklyn’s George Westinghouse Career and Technical Ed High School’s G-House Pirates, sponsored by Bloomberg, emerged a winner with the best robot design, and came in second place out of 66 teams in their division.


Robots for social justice

While most of the elementary and middle school teams were backed by schools and corporate sponsors, the DIVAS for Social Justice’s team stemmed from a camp experience, said Gredda, a team member’s mom. “They literally stemmed,” she said, emphasizing the popular acronym STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

Two members of DIVAS’ Robo-Rebels get their robot ready for their match.DIVAS’ coach Andrea Calloway said the social justice organization used the robotics competition to study the issues of gentrification and displacement in their Bed-Stuy community. Starting back in August, the team “used a 3D printer, observed brownstones, used a mapping program, looked at statistics and built robots,” she said.

“Their solutions included more affordable housing, meeting neighbors through community dinners” and other fixes, Calloway said.

Xaavi Vericain, the one boy on the team, told the Eagle, “I learned gentrification is a big thing in our neighborhood, and I’m glad my friends are here to help us stop it.”

Fellow team member Amia McDonald said she, too, learned that gentrification was a big thing, “so I’m glad I learned about it so we can make some changes.”

Bahiyah Leito said, “I learned it’s okay to ask for help. You don’t always have to be independent.”

Melah Lazarus said she learned “you have to have teamwork and not make a fight.”


Scholarships for participants

High school level participants are eligible for more than 700 college scholarships, worth a total of $20 million.

Six high school teams will move on to the world championship in St. Louis this year.

The event, founded by inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen, was sponsored by organizations including Bloomberg, Con Edison, Goldman Sachs employees, Google, the Siegel Family endowment, Two Sigma and more.

The High Voltage robotics team, from Brooklyn’s Rachel Carson and William E. Grady Career and Technical Education high schools.



Participating upper-level Brooklyn teams:

Team 333 – Megaladons – John Dewey High School

Team 334 – TechKnights – Brooklyn Tech High School

Team 335 – Skillz Tech Gear Botz – Science Skills Center High School

Team 354 – G-House Pirates – George Westinghouse High School

Team 369 – High Voltage – Rachel Carson High School for Studies and William E. Grady

Team 806 – The Brooklyn Blacksmiths – Xaverian High School and Fontbonne Hall Academy

Team 1600 – High School for Civil Rights and Law

Team 1660 – Harlem Knights – Frederick Douglass Academy

Team 4299- BCS Robo Sharks – Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies

Team 4383 – Init() – New York City College of Technology/Pershing Square  and Paul Robeson High School



Six teams are moving on to the World Championships in St. Louis. They are:

Team 1884 – The Griffins (a London-based team)

Team 1796 – RoboTigers (Long Island City)

Team 2344 – The Saunders Droid Factory (Yonkers)

Team 375 – The Robotic Plague (Staten Island Technical High School)

Team 2601 – Steel Hawks (Townsend Harris High School, Flushing)

Team 5421 – Birch Bots (Birch Wathen Lenox School, Manhattan)


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