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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

ROBBINSVILLE: Robotics Team Ready to Rumble


"Prince," named after the team’s CEO Eric Principato, will be competing in district and regional FIRST Robotics competitions culminating in what the team hopes will be a strong showing in the 2012 national championship in St. Louis. The FIRST Robotics challenge for this year is called “The Rebound Rumble,” a competition that requires the students’ robot to earn points by shooting basketballs into hoops of varying heights inside an arena. The students need to work with their team and in alliances and “coopertition” with other teams for maximum points.

The robot, which has a shooter, a rotating turret and a conveyor, uses a camera to locate the basketball hoop’s backboard, calculate the distance of the shot, set the appropriate speed and then fire the ball into the hoop at a 50-degree angle.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a national organization that runs mentor-based programs designed to teach students about science and technology, while giving them experiences that build their interpersonal skills and self-confidence.

The Robbinsville team, known as Nemesis (after the goddess of revenge and retribution) Team 2590, includes 66 students, RHS technology teachers Joy Wolfe and Scott Meredith, and a dedicated group of adult mentors. The group has been at work since the beginning of the school year making the plans needed to meet their robot deadline, but the actual “build season” is compressed into six short weeks. During the build season, students are often working in the RHS technology lab many nights until 11 p.m., as well as Saturdays.

The robot is only one small part of the club’s responsibilities. The entire endeavor is structured like an engineering business would be, including the creation of a business plan. The team is made up of various sub-teams, including Software, Marketing, Finance, Web and Build. Each of these teams is responsible for their part of the model business required for participation in the FIRST competitions.

Last Saturday, the students were working in the lab to prepare for the competition season. Members of the Build Team were busy putting together the robot structure, while members of the Software Team were working on how to control the robot, using a software program called LabVIEW.

In the midst of his work on the robot, Team 2590 CEO Eric Principato, a senior heading to Princeton University in the fall, was explaining the process to state Senator Linda Greenstein and Assemblyman Daniel Benson, both D-Mercer, who were visiting. Members of the Marketing and Finance teams, Jess Friedberg, Chris Karousatos, Ralph Petagna and Michelle Principato, also led a tour and were obviously well-versed in every aspect of the operation.

The Marketing Team works all year contacting sponsors, designing brochures and building community outreach programs. The Finance team is responsible for all donations and expenses. Michelle, a member of the Marketing Team, explained the philosophy of the team members not directly involved in the actual hands-on building of the robot.

”We pride ourselves on being well rounded,” Michelle said. “Even though we don’t build the robot, it is important to know how it works to market it,” she said.

During the competitions, while the Drive Team puts the robot through the required tasks, members of these teams will be in “The Pit” where they will be required to answer questions from the judges about their process. They also craft presentations for the awards that the FIRST competitions offer.

The Web Team runs an award-winning website that is constantly updated with the team’s progress and contains specific information about its many endeavors. Ric Principato, the website mentor among other roles, is the father of four robotics team members, triplets Eric, Michelle, and Alena, and their younger sister Christa.

”I have had the pleasure of seeing this for four years,” Mr. Principato said. “I can’t even measure the value it has had for my four kids.”

Another facet of the team’s work is community service. They recently organized a food drive at Sharon Elementary School and have participated in various fundraising walks for organizations, including Enable. The team also hosts a Discovery Day every year for 2nd to 5th grade students, using robots to encourage an interest in science and technology at an early age.

”Our small club could have such a big impact on the local community,” said Jess Friedberg about the many community endeavors. “We want high school students to reach back,” Mrs. Wolfe.

The robotics team, started in 2007 by Mrs. Wolfe with a NASA rookie grant, consists of students in grades 9 through 12, many of whom learn about it in the school’s technology and Project Lead The Way pre-engineering classes.

There are more freshmen on Nemesis Team 2590 this year than at any time before. The seniors mentor the freshman so that the underclassmen can step in to leadership roles after the upperclassmen graduate.

Some recruitment to the team “family” comes from blood relatives. In addition to the Principato clan, there is a set of twins and many members who are siblings of Nemesis Team 2590 alumni.

The team brings together students of diverse skills whose future plans are also diverse. They have applied and been accepted to many prestigious universities and plan to major in fields ranging from engineering to finance.

The students, who recognize that schoolwork comes first, are also involved in other extracurricular activities, including sports, at Robbinsville High School. They all seem to excel in time management. Zach Brown (Software/Build Teams), CEO Eric Principato, and one of the two CTO’s (chief technological officers) Matt Schwartz will also compete in the Panasonic Challenge, where they will build a robot on a smaller scale with low-cost materials, vying for up to $5,000 in scholarships. Mentor Peter Wolfe, a software engineer by trade, who, alongside his wife, the enthusiastic Mrs. Wolfe, spends many hours after work and on weekends working with the team, summed it up. “It’s not about the robot, the robot is a Trojan horse; just a trick to get kids interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics),” he said. “The kids love this; it’s a lot of fun and they learn a lot.”

To find out more about the Robbinsville High School Robotics Team, visit its website:

The Robbinsville High School robotics team includes: Ben Arenstein, Sid Ayyagari, Christopher Banziger, Vivek Barbhaiya, Brandon Bellero, Julia Borowski, Zach Brown, Shannon Casserly, Nick Cenni, Venkatesh Chinnakonda, Regan Clarke, Kate Coggins, John Coriasco, Karla Dimatulac, Al Drake, Julian Esteban, Erica Falk, Josh Falk, Michael Filipek, Justin Francis, Jessica Friedberg, Kyle Gavalchin, Dan Gavrushenko, Kendrick Grace, Mehaa Gupta, Dylan Hong, Maddison Hughes, Uddhav Joglekar, Ryan Jurek, Alec Karousatos, Chris Karousatos, Stephanie Kovacs, Meghna Kuppuraju, Scott LaRochelle, Bhargav Lingala, Urmila Lingala, Christian Marsala, Christopher May, Austin Mayweather, Taylor Mayweather, Zach Mclaughlin, Anisha Mohan, Jenna Mollica, Karthik Paka, Snigdha Paka, Antonio Papa, Avani Pavuluri, Ralph Petagna, Alena Principato, Christa Principato, Eric Principato, Michelle Principato, Jason Puglisi, Saveetha Raghupathi, Baljot Ranu, JP Ranu, Shravali Reddy, Alec Regulski, Ali Riad, Nick Sanders, Matthew Schwartz, Danielle Stepien, Shashank Sundararaman, Brett Vantassel, Arnav Vast, Harrison Young.