LIC High School students build robot basketball stars

Photo by Rich Bockmann
By Rich Bockmann

For a team of competitors from Long Island City High School, developing the perfect basketball shot is all about mastering the mechanics.

Students from the school’s robotics club built a towering, basketball-tossing, bridge-balancing machine in preparation for this past weekend, when they faced off against teams from across the world in the Rebound Rumble at the 2012 First Robotics Competition at the Jacob Javits center in Manhattan.

The students had just six weeks to build their machines after the competition told them what the robots would be required to do.

“We’ve been doing this for five years, so we’re a veteran team,” said junior Zoe Rosenbaum.

During each match, six teams placed their robots inside an arena separated in the middle by three see-saw-like bridges and a three-tiered ball of hoops on either side.

The students controlled their machines from behind glass walls on either side and scored points for making a basket, defending one or by balancing their robot on a bridge, which is no easy task. The teams do not know the weight of the bridge beforehand, so unlike shooting baskets, it is not something they can practice.

Rosenbaum and her team, the LIC Robodogs, built a device that feeds the balls up to a ramp and then drops them in the basket. Their strategy designing the robot was to build one lighter than most others, so that it could more easily balance on the bridge.

This was the biggest event of the year for the school’s robotics club, and she said she enjoys the time spend raising funds and building the machine as much as she does competing.

“You get to hang out with everyone and create something cool that works,” she said. “You get to do what you want to. It’s just a really good feeling.”

The team earned additional points for their safety captains, students donning pink bubble wrap reminding teammates to wear their safety goggles.

“They take on the persona of ‘safety first,’” said junior Rohit Sharma.

Teams from about a dozen Queens high schools participated in the rumble.

Douglas Chu, a member of the team from Francis Lewis High School, in Fresh Meadows, operated his machine’s shooting mechanism as teammate Patryk Pietraszko navigated with a remote control.

“We decided to go with a simple but efficient design,” he said.

“Simple” may have been a relative term for Chu. His team’s machine used a spinning wheel of rubber surgical tubes to scoop up loose basketballs, which are fed up to a shooter, that can launch the ball at different preset speeds Chu controlled with a remote. It even had a sonar sensor to tell the team how far away from the basket they were.

Chu said his team calculated their best chance at sinking a basket was from a distance of 12.6 feet at a shooting speed of 9.

After dropping about six buckets, they were able to balance on a bridge for 10 points.

“It started tipping and I let go of the pressure,” said Pietraszko, who explained he got help from another team that received points for cooperation. “I’m really happy it worked.”

The team from John Adams High School, in Ozone Park, developed a robot that scooped a basketball up from the ground, and like a pitching machine threw it out the top with a high arc that would draw praise from any high school coach.

Sophomore Esteban Rosario said he has been into robotics ever since he was a kid, when he and his father, who studied to be an electrical engineer, would play with radio-controlled cars.

“I’ve always been passionate about robots and r/c cars,” said Rosario, who had his interest nurtured by his technology teacher, Efrain Cruz. “He’s a first-class teacher and really passionate.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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