It's time for a little hoops action at Hofstra, a little March Madness if you will. There will be teams going at it on the floor of the Mack Sports Complex, basketballs in hand with their fans cheering them on.
This weekend, however, the hardwood will be replaced by a 27-by-54-foot field, and the players will be made of metal. It's the in the 2012 Long Island Regional FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). The event pits robotic teams from high schools around the region against each other, with scholarship money and a possible trip to the national competition in St. Louis at stake.
Plainview JFK has been an FRC regular for years, and the 'POBots Team 353' is once again gearing up for the event, which will be March 29-31. The POBots have been hard at work the last six weeks, which is how long teams are given to build their bots from the day they receive the robot parts.
"The program [actually] runs the entire school year," said team mentor Richard Shapp. "We start in the fall recruiting, fundraising and training, and the students have created POBots Engineering University, where they train the new students."
There are over 60 POBot team members, all POBJFK students. Team 353 divides up the responsibilities in engineering, electrical, mechanical areas, with others pitching in with fundraising, even scouting other teams on game day.
"We have a very diverse group of kids, all different levels of intelligence, different levels of personalities and what not; we help each other out a lot," said POBot team president Emily Stern.
This year's event is the Rebound Rumble, where robots must shoot basketballs into hoops in a combination of automated and student-controlled movements. There are also points awarded when robots balance on bridges laid out on the course.
Teams are divided into three-school alliances, who must strategize on how to tackle the game. Which robot is a good shooter? Which is best for bridge balancing or defense? These are all components that can score points for teams and alliances. And this year, opponents must strategize with each other too, as extra points are awarded if robots from opposing sides balance together on a bridge.
The POBots took part recently in the NYC regionals at the Javits Center, and placed 11th in a 68-team field. The event was an opportunity to troubleshoot the 353 entry in hopes of improved performance at Hofstra. The team also won the Spirit Award, given to teams who 'exhibit extraordinary enthusiasm and spirit through exceptional partnership and teamwork furthering the objectives of FIRST.'
A highlight was the team meeting FIRST founder Dean Kamen, the renowned inventor and entrepreneur, who seemed especially impressed with Emily Stern, who's been involved in robotics since she was five.
"He was impressed that I've been involved my whole life, and he stayed in our pit for a while, answered questions, we explained to him all of our awards, he was sincerely interested in us," Stern said.
Not only does being on Team 353 give students a jump start on a potential engineering or computers career, it creates a sense of teamwork; working together to problem solve and achieve a common goal.
"We want every student to get something out of it, no matter what their level of capability or interest is," Shapp said.
All the POBots hard work culminates in the FRC, where the stands will be packed 'March Madness' style, with all schools represented, decked out in team colors, cheering the robots (and their human creators) on. It's quite a scene, and the POBots are thrilled at the support they've received as they prepare for Rebound Rumble.
"It's really a competitive sport, everyone treats it like that," Stern said. "Kids are screaming, people are going wild ... it's a very exciting atmosphere."