The local news decided to talk to us about our participation in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in N.Y.C this Thursday.
The following article appeared on My Central Jersey on November 25, 2013:
Raider Robotix team to lead Thanksgiving Day parade in N.Y.C.
Written by Cheryl Makin
While Santa Claus may bring up the rear of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, leading the 87th annual event on Thursday will be members of the high school’s Raider Robotix team.
As part of FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the nonprofit organization founded in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology, the Raider Robotix are one of five award-winning FIRST® Robotics Competition teams who, along with their robots, will be marching the route of the parade. The parade begins at 9 a.m. Thanksgiving Day and can be seen on NBC. Joining Team 25, aka the Raider Robotix, will be Team 1538, The Holy Cows, from San Diego, Ca., Team 1477, Texas Torque, from The Woodlands, Texas, Team 180, S.P.A.M., from Stuart, Fla. and Team 16, The Bomb Squad, from Mountain Home, Ark.
The Raider Robotix were chosen because they were FIRST® world champions for the 2012 season, said Head Coach Wayne Cokeley, a science teacher at the high school. He and four students — junior Sarah Sleiman, 16, junior Kevin Zimmerman, 16, sophomore Samir Shah, 15, and 2013 NBHS graduate Tori Schamper, 18 — will be marching with their robot, Rasheed.
The entire experience has been an exciting first as FIRST® robots have never participated in the parade.
“Initially, we had to keep it a secret,” Cokeley said. “This invitation just came out of the blue. I was very surprised. As the details got released, it became a very big deal for us. Everybody recognizes the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade — the balloons and the bands and now we will be right in the middle of it.”
The 12v battery-operated, 150-pound robots leading the 2013 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade were designed and built for last season’s challenge, and have been modified by the students to perform tasks specifically for the parade. Texas Torque’s robot, “Sonic,” will cut the ribbon to signal the official start of the parade. Following the ribbon cutting, the other teams’ robots will shoot confetti as they march along the 2 1/2 route, ending at Macy’s Herald Square.
At the beginning of each competition season, teams receive a “kit of parts” made up of motors, batteries, a control system, a PC, and a mix of automation components. No instructions are included. Working with adult mentors, students have six weeks to design, build, program and test their robots to meet the season’s engineering challenge. Unfortunately, the Raider Robotix recently lost their sponsor, Bristol Myers Squibb, due to the corporation’s budget cuts.
“We are on on our own this season,” Cokeley said. “But, we have been doing fundraisers and making our money for the season. We just held a great fundraiser in the beginning of November called Brunswick Eruption and hosted about 40 other robotics teams from our region. We are fortunate in that we always have received good support for many years from the school and the community.”
Cokeley and his students are busy preparing and looking forward to this “once in a lifetime” experience. They will arrive in New York on Wednesday night and be treated to two nights in a hotel and a Thanksgiving Day dinner after the parade.” Sarah, Samir and Kevin agreed they were “amazed” when they found out about the invitation to the parade.
“I was first speechless and then I started freaking out,” said Sarah, who will act as team spokeswoman on Thursday. “I screamed to my mom and then danced all around for a couple of days. I was just so happy. It really feels unreal. To have the robotics program honored like this means so much to us as a team. We are one happy family here and do a lot of community outreach and community service.”
“I am pretty excited,” Samir said. “It’s a big honor and will get our program a lot of notice and attention.”
“It is truly something big,” said Kevin. “I like that robotics is now getting a lot of attention. Seeing us at the parade is such a great way to reach out and turn other people onto robotics. They can see how engaging it can be for young people. For me, it combines science, math and working with my hands — those are the three things I love.”
Like many, North Brunswick High School Science Supervisor Michael Amendola will watch the parade on his own television
“There are a lot of DVRs already set for Thursday morning I’m sure,” he said. “The robotics program gets kids to build a complicated machine that solves a complicated problem year in and year out. It gets kids interested. This is great for the school and robotics program to get this kind of recognition.”
Choosing the four to represent the Raider Robotix at the parade was not easy, but Cokeley said Kevin, Sarah, Tori and Samir are very deserving. Each has a specific job on the robotics team and are extremely familiar with the current robot. Sarah handles business and public relations details, Kevin, a member of the operating team, drives the robot, and Samir is a programmer and works on the team’s website. Tori, a 2013 North Brunswick Township High School graduate, was head of the robot pit building crew and is coming back from her first semester at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, Cokeley said.
“They are all good kids as is every kid on this team,” Cokeley said. “Being on a robotics team really give kids of all different interests a good base to go further. There is commitment and they learn to work as a team. There is so much time, effort and thought that goes into what we do here. I’m very proud of these guys.”
The biggest challenge for the parade team has been conditioning themselves and the robot for the 2 1/2 mile walk. Also, because the other teams marching come from areas much further away, the Raider Robotix will act as the local host.
“Robots run on batteries,” Cokeley said. “We had to change out the battery to a marine low range battery that is usually used on boats. We are also creating little carts so should any team’s robot have a problem, we can quickly get it up on a cart and drag it along the route.”
“We practiced walking 2 1/2 miles on the track last week,” said Kevin, whose brother Michael was also a member of the world championship team in 2012. “We’re good to go.”
The Raider Robotix has about 40 members on its high school team, said Cokeley, who founded the team in 1997. There are about 75 students in the 9th grade, middle and elementary school teams. They have been world champions twice, in 2000 and 2012 and have been to the final four six times, he said.
“We don’t always win, but we have been to the big stage several times,” Cokeley said. “It’s really like going to the Olympics for us, but we only get six weeks of training.”
The 87th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade will be aired live from New York City on November 28, 2013 beginning at 9 a.m. ET on NBC.
It’s a very exciting opportunity to be offered. All of us here at Raider Robotix are honored and excited to be represented in NY this week. We are also grateful for the continued support of our community, alumni, sponsors, Board of Education and many NBTHS personnel.