Suffern Syborgs set sights on world championship

Students at work in Room 147

Students at work in Room 147

Room 147 at Suffern High School is humming as the Suffern Syborgs tweak, test and retool in preparation for the FIRST Tech Challenge 2012 World Championship in St. Louis, Missouri April 24-29. FIRST Tech Challenge is a robotics competition for high school students. Teams of up to 10 students design, build and program their robots to compete in alliances against other teams.

The Syborgs earned the opportunity to compete in the global competition by winning a series of regional qualifying tournaments, including the Hudson Valley Championship.

In the many hours spent brainstorming, designing and building, students hone their science, technology, engineering and math skills while learning to work collaboratively toward shared goals.

“Gracious professionalism is a guiding principle of FIRST robotics competitions,”explained Suffern High School math/engineering teacher and Syborgs advisor George Mugno. “The team you compete against this round may end up being your ally in the next round.”

A common affinity for math and engineering binds the Syborgs, most of whom became involved on the recommendation of a friend. Participation is open to all and new members are welcome.

“In middle school, I thought that I wanted to become an architect,” noted James, an SHS freshman. “But [since taking a high school engineering course and joining the Syborgs] I’ve realized that I’m actually more interested in engineering.”

“I’ve been part of the team since freshman year,” said SHS junior Noman. “A friend of mine suggested that I check it out.”

In an adjacent room, three team members are testing their robot in a simulated game environment. Each timed match features a driver-controlled period and autonomous period during which the robot must complete tasks independently. Each team must work with its alliance partner to score the most points by completing various tasks, such as moving bowling balls to different areas on the playing field and placing racquet balls in stackable crates.

“We’re using omni-wheels which enable the robot to move in infinite directions and in infinite proportion to the joystick—it allows us to be more precise in terms of both movement and speed,” explained Zachary, an SHS sophomore and the team’s head programmer. “No one else has this drive system.”

Taylor, an SHS senior and captain of the Syborgs/FIRST Team 3951, values the experience she’s gained over the past three years.

“As a senior, the scholarships that are available to members of FIRST robotics teams are really important to me. I applied to the Florida Institute of Technology where members of FIRST teams get a $10,000 scholarship. There are also similar scholarships at many other universities such as BU, Bucknell, Columbia and MIT,” she said. “This experience has taught me how diverse and rich the engineering field is and has got me really excited to learn more about it in college.”

The Syborgs are hopeful that they have what it takes to win and the team’s booster club is working hard to raise funds to defray the cost of the trip, estimated at $11,000.