Forget artificial intelligence, it’s about robots in the Bronx

FeMaidens team from Bronx Science take home third, Sciborgs get honorable mention during regional competition


A pair of robots from the Bronx High School of Science that weigh about 125 pounds and are controlled by a simple X-Box remote control showed off their abilities earlier this year during a New York city competition. And came away with some awards.

Behind the remotes were Bronx Science students. And the challenge is simple — pick up cones and cubes with their “arms” and bring them to the other side of the arena.

The teams were competing to advance to the world championships in Houston. At the regional in Manhattan teams from other states, India, Turkey and Azerbaijan competed with their industrialized-size robots.

During the regional two Bronx Science teams were competing: the all-girls FeMaidens and the co-educational team, the Sciborgs, where students spent seven to eight weeks building with coding and testing. The FeMaidens finished third and took home the Team Spirit Award for their enthusiasm. The Sciborgs took home an honorable mention.

Each robot has a battery that looks similar to a car battery, but this one weighs between eight to 12 pounds.

“We will go through one of these in every match — we can drain this entire battery in three minutes,” said Charlie Peskay, one of the main student strategists for the Sciborgs and part of the construction of robots.

Their “drive” team consists of three people.

• Operator: Responsible for movements such as arms and spins.
• Driver: Drives the robot
• Coach: Directs operator and driver to work together and says what to pick up and where to place them.

Each game lasts three minutes, and they go through at least five minutes for the playoffs. Then there are more games that would need to be completed for the semi-finals and then finals.

Even though both teams did not make the regional finals, they were awarded and honored by Optimum and parent company Altice USA. The sponsor gave $2,500 to first-place winners; $1,500 to runners-up, and $500 for honorable mentions .

Optimum provides internet, phone services, and more in most households; they are built on innovation, said Rafaella Mazzella of Optimum. The company has long supported the competition and sponsored high school teams and regional competitions throughout its service area.

“The money is used often for tools like a portable belt sander and a drill press,” said chemistry teacher and robotics adviser Katherine Carr.

FeMaidens took first place for the Excellence in Technology Award. Whereas the Sciborgs received an honorable mention.

It was the gracious professionalism where students wanted to win, but there was not much animosity between the teams.

During the games, opposing teams would need to join an “alliance” and work together. This year the FeMaidens were aligned with High Voltage Robotics from William Grady in Brooklyn and RoHawks from Hunter College High School.

“It’s a very interesting dynamic,” Carr said. “When I first thought of it, I was like, so we’re friends, we’re also against each other sometimes.”

In one match, the teams will be against each other, and in the next, they’ll work together. But the students agree that it’s more fun that way.

“One alliance had used all their timeouts, but they needed time to fix something. And then the other team — the other alliance used one of their timeouts to help them fix it,” Peskay said.

Both alliances are not competitive with each other, as some might think. They just want every match to be a fair match, Peskay continued.

Bronx Science teams

But this year, students changed it up. And it sounds simple. New wheels.

“Our swerve modules are pretty new; in the past, we never did swerve because swerve is a newer version and costs a lot of money,” said FeMaidens’ captain and head of engineering Melody Jiang.

Robotics are many different types of “drives,” which are used to move and steer the robot. The best part of this new module is that there is a lot more mobility. However, it isn’t straightforward to code and build.

For example, their previous wheels were movements to that of a car. The robot would need to be at a complete stop to make a turn. Whereas now, they can move simultaneously.

Warren Yun, Sciborgs captain, said one of the drives is similar to that of a shopping cart going forward and backward.

“They’re really large, and they’re heavy, too,” she said.

However, its downfall is the quality of it. If another team’s robot pushes a robot to prevent them from scoring with this module, the mobility will help it move.

“That’s another part of robotics,” Jiang said. There’s a lot of strategies involved because you can’t really do everything; you kind of have to debate what you want to prioritize. For example, the drive you sacrifice, like how much you get pushed for that mobility.”

The teams always need to trade off on things. That’s why there is a strategy department. Shinyoung Kang is the head of engineering and strategy for the Femaidens. She said she needed to be the salesperson of the match.

Not only does Kang’s department needs to convince other teams how they will work well in an alliance together. They need to show off what their robot does and promote themselves.

And even during the competition, the strategy team will meet to find ways to proceed with a game and who to work with.

Both teams have five departments.

• Engineering and construction: They make the robot.
• Electronics: They work with the wires and motors. which can be noticeable for some.
• Marketing: They communicate with sponsors like Optimum, which provides awards.
• Programing: They programs the robots.
• Strategy: “They do the challenging part of it,” Jiang said.

But getting onto the team can be quite challenging. The students say it has a lower acceptance rate than Harvard.

Approximately 350 people are interested across both clubs, but they only have 10 available spots each year.

“We lose a lot of great potential robotics people inspired to do engineering,” Carr said.

The two current teams have been around since the early 2000s, and now they are about to start another team but with a different type of robot. The new team will be able to create robots like the two current teams but on a smaller scale. Carr mentioned it should be starting in the fall.

Anthony, founder of the new Apiero team and its senior captain, did not have an opportunity to work with robotics because of Covid. Everything was remote. He hopes expanding a new team will help more people learn about robotics.

Eventually, the school’s goal is to have multiple smaller robotic teams. But they need to find more resources, space, and money. “I’m like (I told assistant principal of physical science and math) we have 20 plus problems. Where do you want to start,” Anthony said.

However, Bronx Science is where most of these students started with robotics. Others started with Mindstorms — programmed robots made from Lego when they were in elementary and middle school.

Last year, Peskay worked with an elementary school in Manhattan once a week to help their “Lego team.” His job was to help them with designs.

“A lot of this gets us into our career paths — personally, I was really into biology before engineering, but now I’m going into engineering completely,” Jiang said.

“This is what kind of led me into the path of engineering, and I’m planning on majoring in engineering (in college).

“It’s a completely student-led program. We make all the curriculums ourselves, we determine the kind of timing of everything, a lot of it is time management, how to communicate with others, communicate with our sponsors and even things such as like forming lifelong friendships,”









robots, Bronx School of Science, FeMaidens, Sciborgs, competition, Optimum