Students are hooked on robotics

NUTLEY, NJ — When you think of robotics, what is the first thing that comes to mind? If you imagine the robot in the old television series “Lost in Space” or one of the creepy variations of “The Terminator,” you’d be experiencing entertainment, and not the science-based world of robotics.

Robotics combines programming, code-building and mobile technology that can be brought to life through applications that can be designed by students.

The Nutley High School Robotics Club, in its first year, is comprised of students who are using complex and abstract scientific notions to build a mobile unit that can execute their commands in real time.

These intrepid kids are learning — from the ground up — how to program and write code.
To understand programming and Java code, picture learning a new language, but in symbols; this is not the stuff of elementary mathematics or science.

With this incredible Nutley High School Robotics Team, high school students are teaching themselves not only how to think like a computer but also to take their lessons and apply them to create a visually striking result: a computerized robot that will move and perform specific actions.

Kent Banai, the Nutley science coordinator for grades kindergarten through high school, said he is thrilled with the new team.

“I think as tech improves, the students are always keeping up with it and we have to find various ways to meet their needs,” Banai said. “Our students do it naturally. Some are working on (computer-aided design) systems and others programming,
and they are driving the ship. This matches the work with our curriculum standards, and this is where we are in science instruction in engineering, design and programming, which is a part of everyday science.”

Robotics coaches and high school teachers Marc Kasner and Geraldine Lemus-Yip agreed.
“They are incredibly involved and so engaged in what they actually doing,” said Kasner. “We have to kick them out every time. The students work until 4:30 p.m. four days a week.”

Lemus-Yip added, “When we are approaching a meet and have a deadline, they are very focused and want to perfect everything and make improvements.”

The robotics team had a meet planned for Feb. 24, and because funding is always an issue, they were designing and creating T-shirts to sell. Their clever name, “Anonymouse,” says it all.

“With most teams putting together $6,000 to $7,000 for supplies, we are getting by with around $2,000,” Lemus-Yip said.
For the upcoming meet, the team must do some heavy lifting. Members must program a controller and move a robot around during a two minute control period. Their robot will be moving blocks and dropping them into containers, raising an arm and pressing buttons and triggers. Big points are earned for climbing a “mountain” and hanging from the top for 30 seconds.

But most spectacularly, every one of the Nutley High School Robotics Team members has learned everything — CAD design, engineering, software, creating usable code, etc. — from scratch. Now the entire team is busy coding and programming the moves for the robot, which is yet to have a name.

“We are planning to make our own metal shop next year,” added Lemus-Yip. “The kids are planning to do recruitment too, and will give a presentation at the middle school. They are learning vital lessons: how to delegate and problem solve, socialization, mentoring and negotiation.”