After winning regional event, Southold’s Team RICE 870 will compete at world robotics competition in Houston

The Southold robotics team clinched first place in the FIRST Long Island Regional No. 2 competition Saturday at Hofstra University’s David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Center. In just three and a half weeks, FIRST, which stands for inspiration and recognition of science and technology, hosts the Robotics World Championship in Texas April 19-22.

Southold Team RICE 870, along with Team 694 from Stuyvesant High School in New York City and Team 533 from Lindenhurst Senior High School, their victorious alliance partners in the three-on-three final match, will head down to Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center to compete against teams from across the globe.

“You’re competing with these teams that are the best around the world, and you know the challenge is a lot harder,” said Sofia Gillan, the club’s vice president and the drive coach who issues strategic decisions to the competition drive team. “But it also gets you a bit more excited.”

It was a long road to Hofstra. Team RICE (an acronym which stands for respect, integrity, compassion and equity) began building their current robot shortly after New Year’s Day, and have spent countless hours practicing and calibrating.

“We’ve worked so hard this entire season, our build hours are kind of crazy, every day after school from 2:30 to 9:30,” Sofia, a 16-year-old junior, said. “So to see it pay off like that, it means a lot.”

This year’s competition game, dubbed “Charged Up,” requires robots to pick up cones and cubes, then place them on a series of nodes at three different heights, which have different point values. In the final 20 seconds of the round, which lasts a little over two minutes, the three teams from each alliance must then balance their robots on a balance beam.

Southold designed their robot with pneumatic arms and the ability to rotate 360 degrees atop its chassis. Controller Brian Schill, a 16-year-old junior, used an Xbox controller to operate the robot’s arms and other functions necessary to manipulate the game pieces. Driver Declan Crowley controlled two flight simulator joysticks, one to drive the robot forward and back, left and right, the other to spin it to face any direction.

Last year, the team came in first in both Long Island regionals at Hofstra, which are scored independently of one another. Coming in second place in Regional No. 1 this past Wednesday, in which they lost two of three rounds by one point, rattled the team’s well-earned confidence — this April will mark their eighth appearance in the FIRST Championship — but they rose to the challenge for Regional No. 2. A team only needs to win one of the two regionals to head to the championship in Houston.

“Last year we had such a successful year and I was hoping to repeat it this year,” Declan, a 17-year-old senior and the club’s president, said. “Obviously we fell a little short in regional one, so there was a lot of stress, a lot of nerves going into the second one, especially because we knew there would be definitely some competition there.”

Team 870’s robot. (Courtesy photo)

The team also took home the Innovation in Control Award following Regional No. 2 and the Judge’s Award from Regional No. 1, which Southold robotics faculty co-advisor Christine Schade said “recognizes the design of our robot … how well the kids know their robot and can explain all of the components of the robot, it takes into account that Team 870 will help others when called upon … so that’s a really nice award to go home with.”

On March 18, the day before the first competition, Southold Junior/Senior High School hosted FIRST Robotics Team 7497 from Taiwan, who needed a place to assemble their robot after shipping it to the U.S. They broke bread with the Taiwanese team, and got to know their competitors.

“There was one kid that was just showing us magic tricks that he could do,” Sofia said. “And that’s just the friendship part, not to mention we got to check out their robot, and they got to check out ours.” They then defeated Team 7497 in a qualification round in Regional No. 1.

To offset the costs of travel to the world championship, Team RICE 870 is selling wristbands for $10 each. Anyone interested in supporting the robotics team’s expedition can send a check to Southold Schools, P.O. Box 470, Southold, NY 11971, payable to Southold Robotics, Attn: Christine Schade.