Nuts, bolts and hoops align for Fresh Meadows teens

Francis Lewis High School students Douglas Chu (l.) and Patryk Pietraszko operate their basketball-shooting machine during the Rebound Rumble competition. Photo by Rich Bockmann
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For a team of competitors from Francis Lewis High School, developing the perfect basketball shot is all about mastering the mechanics.

Students from the Fresh Meadows school’s robotics club built a towering, basketball-tossing, bridge-balancing machine in preparation for this past weekend, when they faced off against teams from across the world in the “Rebound Rumble” at the 2012 First Robotics Competition at the Jacob Javits center in Manhattan.

The students had just six weeks to build their machines after the competition told them what the robots would be required to do.

“We decided to go with a simple but efficient design,” said Douglas “Chu-Chu Train” Chu, who operated his machine’s shooting mechanism as teammate Patryk Pietraszko navigated with a remote control.

“Simple” may have been a relative term for Chu. His team’s machine used a spinning wheel of rubber surgical tubes to scoop up loose basketballs, which are fed up to a shooter that can launch the ball at different preset speeds Chu controlled with a remote. It even had a sonar sensor to tell the team how far away from the basket they were.

During each match, six teams placed their robots inside an arena separated in the middle by three see-saw-like bridges and a three-tiered ball of hoops on either side.

The students controlled their machines from behind glass walls on either side, and scored points for making a basket, defending one or by balancing their robot on a bridge, which is no easy task. The teams do not know the weight of the bridge beforehand, so unlike shooting baskets, it is not something they can practice.

Chu said his team calculated their best chance at sinking a basket was from a distance of 12.6 feet.

After dropping about six baskets, they were able to balance on a bridge for 10 points.

“It started tipping and I let go of the pressure,” said Pietraszko, who explained he got help from another team that received points for cooperation. “I’m really happy it worked.”

Teams from about a dozen Queens high schools participated in the robot rumble.

Long Island City High School junior Zoe Rosenbaum and her team, the LIC Robodogs, built a device that feeds the balls up to a ramp and then drops them in the basket. This was the biggest event of the year for the school’s robotics club, and she said she enjoys the time spent raising funds and building the machine as much as she does competing.

“You get to hang out with everyone and create something cool that works,” she said. “You get to do what you want to. It’s just a really good feeling.”

The team earned additional points for their safety captains, students donning pink bubble wrap reminding teammates to wear their safety goggles.

“They take on the persona of ‘safety first,’” said junior Rohit Sharma.

The team from John Adams High School in Ozone Park developed a robot that scooped a basketball up from the ground, and like a pitching machine threw it out the top with a high arc that would draw praise from any high school coach.

Sophomore Esteban Rosario said he has been into robotics ever since he was a kid, when he and his father, who studied to be an electrical engineer, would play with radio-controlled cars.

“I’ve always been passionate about robots and r/c cars,” said Rosario, who had his interest nurtured by his technology teacher, Efrain Cruz. “He’s a first-class teacher and really passionate.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Posted 6:55 pm, March 21, 2012
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