The “Regal Eagles” Find Robotics Success at FIRST


Lanna Delaney, Reporter

If you haven’t heard, our school’s robotics team, the Regal Eagles, just competed in the FIRST Robotics NYC Regional, from March 11th to the 13th. The competition, filled with energy and excitement, hosted international teams from Turkey, China, England, Brazil, and Ecuador.  

The team’s mentor, Mr. Zabell, won the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award, and junior Sam Perkowsky won the Dean’s List Finalist Award. The Regal Eagles also won third place in a photo contest. Morgan Heller, the winner, brought home an umbrella, a Google Virtual Reality cardboard, buttons, an Amazon gift card, and a Java SE 8 programmer study guide.

Sam, the captain of the robotics team, designed the entire shooting mechanism and is in charge of figuring out the logistics behind the chosen design.

“The strategy wasn’t entirely mine,” Sam said. He does acknowledge, however, that “delegation and time management” were key to making sure the robot would be done in time.

Smiti Shah, the co-captain, helped manage the rest of the project. “I know a decent bit of mechanical stuff,” she said. “So I’m always doing little jobs during robotics. I am treasurer and marketing manager, so I handle the business side of things. This year, our team has been successful in scoring sponsorships from Core BTS, Dunkin Donuts, and Accuhealth—adding to our list of sponsors from last year. I am also the drive coach. This position means I am the head of strategy during the competitions. I basically get to yell at other teams and dictate what they should be doing when we are working together with them on the field.”

For Drew Maggio, most of the work has been trial and error. Mr. Zabell gave Drew the difficult yet rewarding task of building a climber through the use of pneumatics. He was also involved with the actual building of the robot. Along with fabrication of the robot, Drew “designed 3-D computer models of the finished robot using the same software many professionals use  for presentation purposes.”

Timothy Ogden is the robotics team’s head programmer. He basically writes all the code to control the robot programmatically.  “I allow the driver (Sam) and the operator (myself) to control different subsystems with an Xbox 360 controller, as well as create autonomous modes to allow the robot to drive itself.” Timothy also said, “there’s a bit of a steep learning curve in programming”. Once he got past that, however, he didn’t have too much trouble. Timothy took an “Intro to Programming” class taught by Mr. Laspina, and said it was a very “beneficial class, especially because pursuing coding projects on my own time has helped robotics.”

The team had only six weeks to build a working robot. They finished the robot in three and a half weeks, giving them time to troubleshoot and make any final touches. They worked for about 156 hours in the lab on the robot, which doesn’t include the work they did at home. These tasks included research, design, and programming.

According to Mr. Zabell, last year was “the team’s roughest year.” The reason: they didn’t have the robot done early enough and had no real design path. This year, of course, the team was nervous, but according to Drew, “it’s just like with any other kind of game. You just have to perform your best, and prepare yourself as much as possible.”

“At our competitions, everybody collaborates and helps each other out when the competition gets hard,” said Sam.

The Robotics Team meets in the robotics room every day of the week, and on Saturdays during build season. During build season, they they work from the end of the school day until 7:30, and Saturdays they work from 9 AM-2 PM.

Robotics is very time-consuming, but also very rewarding. Smiti advises newcomers: “Don’t give up on your first few weeks there. Wait a little bit, and see how you feel after a while. It may seem intimidating at first. You might be given little and tedious responsibilities, but overtime you might be able to gain a leadership role.”

You don’t have to be an expert in engineering and building to join Robotics.

“People often say they would join, but don’t know what to expect having no programming or engineering experience. We are always looking for new faces, regardless of experience,” Drew said. The team has to complete tasks covering every facet of the tech industry, including public relations, web design, graphic design, and advertising.

Of course, experience on this team can be especially useful if you would like to be an engineer, as it will give you a headstart in that career path. Drew’s favorite part of being on the team is, “knowing that I’m learning the same stuff I’ll be doing in college. I want to be an engineer, and robotics has helped me out.”

Most people have joined robotics because a friend has introduced them to the subject, resulting in a new interest. Your experience on the team might be exactly what you expected, or something completely different. In any case, it’s certainly worth a try.