LIVINGSTON, NJ — Days before competing in the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics competition to be held on Sunday, members of the first-ever international FTC robotics team—which is comprised of seven Livingston High School students and seven teenagers from Arad, Israel—met with the Livingston Township Council to describe their journey over the last several months.

As an international group, members of the F.I.R.E. FTC Team believe that their team is “the future of competitive robotics” and hope to show the world the experiences and benefits that come from this unique opportunity.

In anticipation of Sunday’s event, where F.I.R.E will be among the 30 teams from around the state to compete in the FTC of New Jersey Robot Joust, the seven Israeli members of the team are currently being hosted by the Livingston families and have spent the last several days site-seeing throughout the tri-state area while their Livingston counterparts are in school. The afternoon hours, however, are spent making final touches to their robot.

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Going into Sunday’s competition, the team has already overcome various challenges that many of the other teams could never imagine—including building a robot together despite the language barrier and a seven-hour time difference as well as working through the technological issues caused by the recent server hack at Livingston Public Schools.

The cyber attack has not stopped the team from aiming high in the competition, however. Working overseas meant that the teammates from both countries built identical robots, and that the team could compete with whichever robot was most up-to-date technologically by the time of the competition.

In fact, the teammates explained to the mayor and council on Wednesday that their goal is to be a “world-championship level, high-performance team” and hopefully leave Sunday’s competition with an award or two under their belts.

During Wednesday's council meeting, the council members had an opportunity to explain how Livingston’s government works, and the Israeli team members spoke about the various places they have visited during their stay, such as the Empire State Building.

The Livingston members also explained that they had a similar opportunity over the summer to visit their Israeli counterparts in Arad for team-building activities, design meetings and to learn more about the Israeli culture. Along with their coaches, Jeanne Ziobro and the recently retired James Novotny, the Livingston students participated in training sessions and toured various sites in Israel, including the Old City of Jerusalem, Haifa, Arad and more.

Following the FIRST values of "gracious professionalism and cooperation," the international team said that it has adhered to the engineering design process, using Agile Development methods as well as online communication and documentation tools to design an engineering notebook and identical robots.  

“Our intention is to promote lifelong student learning, skills and attitudes; fostering learning beyond just building a robot within the engineering constraints of time; budgeting and team management; and even more,” the team said. “By communicating, collaborating and traveling internationally, this team will be enjoyable and build a living bridge between the two countries and communities.”

In a joint statement earlier this week, the team said that F.I.R.E. strives to “aim high; win competitions in both Israel and the U.S.; improve the reach of FIRST in our community, while concurrently encouraging STEM among the next generation; practice gracious professionalism and encourage the principles of the great and (to our utter dismay and sadness) late Woody Flowers, who a few of our members had the honor of meeting; and rise to the global competition on both sides.”

“We work towards strengthening international connections and learning about different cultures: the future of the planet is international communication and achieving that early is beneficial for all those involved,” the team said.

Spectators are invited to gather at Livingston High School’s Fitness and Wellness Center on Sunday for the FIRST Tech Challenge of New Jersey Robot Joust, sponsored in NJ by PSEG Foundation, R & J Control Inc., Cumberland Kake, BAE systems. Qualifying rounds begin at 11 a.m., and awards will be handed out during closing ceremonies between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.