LIVINGSTON, NJ — After returning from a summer trip to Israel to meet the members of their international FIRST robotics team, Livingston High School (LHS) students Aden Vishnevsky, Ally Mintz, Shourya Bansal, Revant Maridi, Pierce Rubenstein, David Samolkin and Aryan Bansal—five of the seven members of the LHS Robotics team "Firestorm"—shared their experience with the Livingston Board of Education (LBOE).
During their trip, the LHS team members, along with coaches Jeanne Ziobro and James Novotny, joined with students from the Arad, Israel Phoenix Team to plan an alliance for the FIRST Tech Challenge. In conjuction with the seven members of the team in Arad, the 14 students are jointly designing, building, testing and competing with an internationally designed robot.
“Half of [the robot] was built in Israel, half of it was built here, and they’ll combine it together to compete at the event in December,” said Novotny. “[The robot] is the first of its kind. It’s hard enough to build a robot by itself [and] trying to team up with another team is even more of a challenge, so doing it internationally with a seven-hour time difference and different languages is just an amazing experience.”
During their presentation to the LBOE, the LHS team members said their “intention is to promote lifelong student-learning skills and attitudes, fostering learning beyond just building a robot.”
“As an international group, FIRE is comprised of students from two different countries,” the team said. “Collaborating and traveling internationally, this teamwork will be enjoyable and will build a living bridge between the two countries and communities.”
In addition to planning a robot, the students also participated in training sessions and toured various sites in Israel, Including the Old City of Jerusalem, Haifa, Arad and the Technion Institute during their seven-day trip with the Israeli members of their robotics team.
“But before we left, we had to do a lot of preparing,” the team said. “We would meet almost every week once a week during lunch…A week before, we ended up meeting with a local rabbi to learn about the culture of Israel and Arad.”
On the Saturday after the school year ended, the students flew to Israel, which they said was “especially difficult” due to the extensive security at the Israeli airport in Tel Aviv. Through a dinner party and icebreakers upon their arrival, the Livingston students got to know their Israeli counterparts.
Following the tours and team-development exercises, the students got together to discuss their goals as a team and the processes the team would use to reach them.
“The meeting was the most critical part of our trip, as here we laid out the ground work for how the team was going to function for the rest of the summer,” the team said. “Many different concepts were brought up during this meeting, including communication and development. One major thing that was brought up was the concept of agile planning, which is a project-planning method that splits the schedule into smaller segments.
“Each segment, or ‘sprint,’ is organized to last a short period of time. The time for each sprint is related to the length and complexity of the full project. For our robotics team, we decided that each sprint round would last about three weeks.”
On the last day of the trip, the American and Israeli students spent most of the day hanging out as a group and discussing the team’s mission statement. The host families met for one last team dinner before the Livingston team left for the airport.
Since returning to Livingston, the team has had numerous meetings at the school and through online communication channels, as the team’s second “sprint” period only recently ended this week.
“So far, we have completed almost all the tasks we planned to accomplish,” the team said. “Since everyone on the team had different summer plans, this result was expected. We believe that once the school year starts, our team will be able to complete every goal in any given sprint.”
The students also explained that much of their time has recently been spent building the robot, which they had with them at the LBOE meeting.
“This robot is a very basic, non-functional model that will be the base of the robot that we plan on building in sync with our team members in Arad,” they said.
Coach Novotny, who is retiring after nearly 30 years in Livingston, concluded by mentioning some upcoming robotics events. On Sept. 6, the high school will host the kickoff for the 2019 FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), which has a “Star Wars” theme this year.
According to the FTC website, there are expected to be more than 615,000 students from at least 113 countries participating this season—including four robotics teams from Livingston.
“We grew from one to four teams this year,” said Novotny, who recently spoke about the growing popularity of robotics in Livingston as he accepted a $10,000 grant from Columbia Bank that was awarded to the LHS technology department.
“This team (FIRE) is going to be doing the international work," said Novotny. "In December, the group of students from Israel is going to come visit us in Livingston…They’re going to travel and tour during the day, they’re going to come down to the school and the kids going to work and put their robot together.”
As part of their presentation, the teammates also thanked sponsors BAE Systems, the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, Colombia Bank and Arconic Systems for providing funding.