High school engineering students build robot and teamwork

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  • Leonard Nimoy
    Leonard Nimoy
    American actor

Giovanni Balbuena’s family is from Mexico, and Karthik Maddur’s hails from India. Kevin Perez’s and Benny Menawere’s families came to New York from the Dominican Republic, but in Mr. Nunes’ robotics club at Saunders Trades and Technical High School, “We get to work together as one family,” said Patrick Silva DaCruz, whose parents are from Portugal and the Cape Verde Islands.

And that family has formed a championship robotics team to rally behind “Leonard,” a 74-inch, 120-pound robot that lives in a crate.

Named after Mr. Spock of “Star Trek,” played by actor Leonard Nimoy, the aluminum-framed robot was designed and constructed and is operated exclusively by this enthusiastic team of high school students from just north of New York City.

The nylon, fabricated rack-and-pinion crate ejector was made using 3-D printers, and the wiring systems allow the various electronic parts to talk to each other through a controlled area network, the same way the electrical components in a luxury automobile communicate.

Students included a shaft encoder, which brings the robotic arms to preset heights and gradually decelerates them and the cargo as they approach ground level.

Mecanum wheels, which look like regular tires with rollers attached to them, allow Leonard to move forward, backward and sideways, making the robot extremely maneuverable in small spaces.

Con Edison, the local energy supplier, generously fabricated parts for the competition robot, often taking designs that were doodled on the back of a napkin during lunch, and turning dreams into actual parts.

“The support they give us is priceless,” said robotics coach Jose Nunes, the enthusiastic teacher who started the club eight years ago.

The 24 electronics and computer circuitry students from Mr. Nunes’ robotics club will be jumping on a bus and heading to St. Louis for the 2015 FIRST Robotics Competition Game, which takes place April 22-25.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) founder Dean Kamen, known for inventing the Segway, said he wanted “to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”

During a recent practice behind drawn curtains on the school auditorium stage, Nunes stood behind his students and calmly offered encouragement to Giovanni Balbuena, who moved Leonard around, and Christian Giraldo, who raised and lowered the robotic arms, which were holding plastic boxes and a garbage can.

During the actual competition, a clock will be ticking as the team battles against two others. In Recycle Rush, an Earth Day-themed race, Leonard will drive onto the field with the garbage can and try to pick up as many as six plastic totes, stack them all vertically and return them to a loading platform in less than two and a half minutes.

Despite the tough competition from teams from around the world, the Saunders High School students practice what they call “gracious professionalism,” meaning they compete like crazy but treat one another with respect and kindness.

“A lot of people came in here not knowing how to talk to people,” said student Brian Rivera. “We’ve made a lot of friends and learned how to work together as a team.” (David Handschuh/Yahoo News)

Photographs by David Handschuh/Yahoo News

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