After building a robot for six weeks, all the GearHeadz wanted to do was sleep.
The Rocky Point-based robotics team had finished building its first machine used to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition, and the teammates admit moving up from the FIRST Tech Challenge league was more work than even they imagined, but the team is ready for competition.
“Looking at the FTC robots we built compared to the FRC robot, it’s not even close to being the same,” said programmer Jade Pinkenburg, a junior at Rocky Point High School. “The only similarity is the aluminum plate base. Everything else we had to learn ourselves. It was complicated, but really enjoyable learning all the new elements.”
“It’s really professional-grade robotics. The control modules and modems — it’s not toys anymore.”
His father, Chris Pinkenburg, the team’s coach, said he’s thrilled to compete at Hofstra University March 31 after 42 days of hard work learning and building from 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 3 to 7 p.m. on weekends — especially because the league change has been six years in the making.
“It’s been an interesting road so far,” he said. “We were a small team with a lot to do. It was six long weeks, but I’m really proud of the kids. They really pulled their weight and everybody contributed. It was a great experience, and the kids learned a lot.”
Upon receiving the kit with materials weeks ago from FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, an international robotics competition sanctioning body, the head coach said it was like Christmas, looking at all of the new material they were to use for their machine. But the team quickly realized that a lot of ingenuity and creativity was going to be needed to build a robot from all of the foreign parts it began to categorize.
The three challenges this year, with the theme of steamworks, are to collect fuel represented by green balls and use pressure to propel them to a target, retrieve and deliver gears to a rotor, and climb a rope.
The team prioritized their focus based on difficulty and point value.
“At first we thought we knew what we were doing, but it turns out we had no idea what we were doing,” Jade Pinkenburg said laughing. He explained how he and his teammates had to put in a lot of time teaching themselves a new code language and how to use the parts to design the robot to do what they wanted it to. “It was six weeks of day after day designing, building and coding, plus homework, so it was a lot of work, but we prioritized to get it done. I’m proud of what we’ve done as a team.”
He said he was also inspired by the challenges brought on by the new league.
“There’s more stuff to do and things that are interesting and applicable to the real world,” he said. “It builds on concepts we learn in school in physics and seeing how it works in the real world is interesting.”
Scoring a 1570 out of 1600 on the SATs and a perfect 36 on the ACTs, it’s no wonder he was able to combat the problems the team continued to face. But to the student, it’s all about staying interested and motivated.
“My quick learning helped, but it’s more about the motivation,” Pinkenburg said. “If you want to be successful, you can be.”
His teammate Jen Bradley, a sophomore, said the six weeks to build the 120-pound robot were intense, but a great experience.
“I think it’s good to have a general knowledge of simple machines, basic physics and mathematics and programming because in this day and age everything is becoming modernized,” she said. “Having this knowledge will help up, but it’s also just interesting and it’s fun for us.”
The GearHeadz continued to solve problem after problem. First, Rocky Point sophomore Alek Zahradka and junior Travis Ferrie got to work building the robot and its attachments. Unlike in the FIRST LEGO league, FLL, another league the team took part in last year, where you can only use parts made by Lego, in FRC you can use any part that’s available to the public as long as it’s not dangerous, which Bradley said made the process more exciting.
The team used rubber surgical tubes to sling around an axel and pull balls into the shooter. Two wheels accelerate the balls toward the target. It will be 10 feet high, and although Chris Pinkenburg said it is unclear if they can reach the mark, building the robot in a space in Yaphank and testing it inside the basement of the North Shore Public Library, he’s confident in his team’s capabilities.
“We can hit the ceiling in the library in the meantime,” he said, laughing.
“I say it’s the hardest fun you’ll ever have…We’re not engineers, but we built something.”
Rocky Point freshman Julius Condemi then worked on getting the gears moving. With 1 minute, 45 seconds to complete the tasks, Pinkenburg said he was impressed seeing his team member placing five or six gears on the peg.
“Julius must play a lot of video games, which helps,” he said. “He’s a great driver, and the robot is very agile. In the end we managed to hang the gears and climb the rope.”
The robot is now sealed in a bag inside Pinkenburg’s living room, but the GearHeadz are allowed to continue working on the attachments. The coach said it couldn’t have been made possible without the support of the community. Most team meetings were held at the North Shore Youth Council but also the Rocky Point VFW, Rocky Point Civic Association and local residents offered assistance. He said with the help and his team’s dedication, the rookie robot is comparable to many others in the league — even with eight members, compared to other teams like Longwood, that has 60 kids on the team. Rocky Point senior Clayton Mackay and freshmen Rex Alex and Julia Jacobellis round out the roster.
“The kids really focused, worked well under pressure and got the job done,” the coach said. “It’s really professional-grade robotics. The control modules and modems — it’s not toys anymore. This stuff is used in the industry to build robots. It’s on another level.”
His son said he can’t wait to show off what the GearHeadz have produced at the competition.
“It’s been an incredible experience unlike anything I’ve ever done before,” he said. “I say it’s the hardest fun you’ll ever have, and it’ll be cool to show what we’ve done in front of such a large audience. It’s crazy to see a bunch of teenagers with free time on the weekends building an inspiring and massive robot. We’re not engineers, but we built something.”
North Atlantic Industries in Bohemia and a Rookie grant from the Argosy Foundation made the team’s competition this season possible. For more information about the team, to join or to donate, visit the team’s website at www.rockypointroboticsclub.com.