A tight-knit team of Bridgehampton School whiz kids have built what they call the most advanced robot their team has ever created, and they’re gearing up to showcase it on an international stage.
Team 5659, as they’re known, will enter an “outer space” themed competition in Quebec, Canada, called the Festival de Robotique from April 3 to April 6. First up, though, is the FIRST Robotics regional competition from March 28 through March 30.
“I’m super excited, super pumped,” said Bridgehampton junior Liam Huberty, the team’s head programmer. “This is definitely the biggest and most skilled team we’ve had, and probably the most code we’ve had on the robot.”
According to junior Maximus Tiska, the robot weighs around 125 pounds, and has eight different motors and an elevator system inspired by the ropes and pulleys of a sailboat. “There were a lot of challenges — how to figure out how the systems go together,” Maximus said.
Senior James Fairchild, the school’s valedictorian, said the team is “only a couple of tweaks away” from being a very serious contender. “This year we have every single mechanism that we wanted to build,” he said. “There’s not one compromise that we had to make.”
James said Bridgehampton’s robot has durable wheels that can “really muscle through.” That’s a good thing, as the team faces somewhat of an uphill climb whenever it competes against much larger schools, which it anticipates doing over the next few weeks.
Those with larger enrollments typically offer more technology and coding classes for students in which they can pick up engineering skills; by contrast, Liam is almost entirely self-taught, having taken online coding classes and watched a lot of videos in his spare time. Bigger schools also often have more financial resources for robot parts and access to expertise offered by mentors from nearby engineering or technology companies.
In Bridgehampton’s case, in addition to coaches Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz and Ken Giosi, two volunteer mentors have helped along the way: Julie Burmeister, a retired teacher who lives in the community, and Jonathan Fletcher, a 2004 Pierson High School alumnus who is a shop foreman at Liberty Ironworks in Southampton.
“It’s more about getting them to learn,” Mr. Fletcher said, noting schools are “cutting back on shop classes in many places.”
Junior Olivia Cassone is hopeful the robot will win a special engineering award. Olivia said while she’s proud of all they have accomplished, some of the young women on the team have faced a particular challenge.
“It’s definitely hard trying to be heard by the guys,” she said. “They don’t listen.”
“I agree,” said Caleigh Hochstedler, a junior.
“Robotics for me has been about finding my place,” she added. “I’ve always been good at musical stuff, but coming to robotics, you have to find what you’re good at. It takes work.”
For Madeline Grabb, also a junior, “a really big challenge was the realization that you have to rebuild something multiple times to get it to work. That was frustrating for me. We have to be willing to problem-solve.”
The team has raised more than $29,000 for its trip to Quebec, and thanked its sponsors, including Kathleen King of Tate’s Bake Shop, for their support.
Ms. Fayyaz said Team 5659 has collectively poured hundreds and hundreds of hours into the robot.
“Our motto,” she said, “is you do things 5,659 times.”