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Garden City Life - Schools

Crossing Borders: Technology To The Rescue

Local robotics team reaches around the globe

An enterprising group of 11- and 12-year-olds from Stewart Manor, Garden City and Westbury who call themselves the Robotic Rebels competed in the 10th Annual Long Island FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League (FLL) Championship Tournament held on March 2 at Longwood High School in Middle Island. The team gained entry into the championship round after they won the 2nd Place Champion’s Award at a qualifying tournament held in Central Islip last month.

Guided by coaches Steve Giammona and Brian Sanguyu, team members Keith DeStaebler, Steven Giammona, Justin MacFall, Christina Marciano, Ronnie Marciano, Kevin McGoldrick and Anthony Sanguyu worked for six months to build and program a robot to perform challenging missions and completed an in-depth research project to identify a problem and develop an innovative solution with regard to this year’s FLL theme: Nature’s Fury.

The team had to identify a region that was impacted by a natural disaster, recognize a problem that resulted from the disaster, and invent a solution to help solve the problem. Inspired by Coach Sanguyu who was born and raised in the Philippines, the team focused their efforts on Tyhpoon Haiyan, which slammed the Philippines last November. The Rebels learned that of the 100 million people who live in the region, 68 million have cell phones. The impoverished region is known as the “Text Messaging Capital of the World” because inhabitants rely heavily on texting to communicate, as texts cost only 2 cents each. Through their research, the Rebels also learned that bicycles are a primary source of transportation for Filipinos.

After Typhoon Haiyan — known as “Yolanda” to Filipinos — hit, thousands died, hundreds of thousands were left homeless, and millions were left without power. No power equated to no way to communicate to reach out to family members and to seek food and aid. The Robotic Rebels considered the region’s economic inability to purchase generators, as many of their own families did in the wake of Superstorm Sandy last year. They also considered which resources remained in the aftermath of Yolanda and homed in on bicycles.

After many brainstorming sessions, the team invented an inexpensive pedal-powered cell phone charger, aptly named the “No-Landa.” They calculated how long and how fast one would have to pedal to charge a cell phone and determined anyone, regardless of age, size or strength, can operate the No-Landa successfully. The No-Landa consists of a wood stand, which can be made by hand and on which the bicycle rests and a rolling 10-watt generator, which gets attached to the stand. The team built a prototype and demonstrated its use before a panel of judges at the tournament.

To gauge the feasibility of their proposed solution, the Rebels shared their research and the No-Landa with many people, including NYPD and FDNY officers, a software engineer, a mechanical engineer, a doctor, and most impressively a Filipino native who lives here now. The Rebels invited Fr. Rudy Pesongco, associate pastor of St. Anne’s Church in Garden City who emigrated from the Philippines, to one of their practice meetings and presented their solution to him. He endorsed the No-Landa, saying, “I like very much the idea because in times of emergencies [like the typhoon] we lost everything, no electric power. But, because of this bicycle-powered charger that you invented that can generate power in order for the cell phone to [work], then I subscribe to this idea, which is very practical and very easy to follow.” He added that he uses text messaging when he visits his family in the Philippines because it’s cheap and fast.

A Filipino native himself, Sanguyu and his family visit the Philippines every other summer. Prior to each visit, he collects clothing and other goods from colleagues and friends and ships them to his former community. This past summer, he requested used computer equipment. Upon his arrival, he built a 30-seat computer lab at Mabalacat Elementary School. Little did he know at the time that this very lab would assist the Robotic Rebels in sharing their innovative solution with peers across the globe. The Rebels sent a video presentation of the No-Landa to a sixth-grade class at Mabalacat Elementary School and asked their Filipino peers to reply to the following questions: Do you like our innovative solution, the No-Landa? If yes, why do you like it? Would you use it? What, if anything, would you change about the No-Landa. They replied with their own video for the Rebels, saying, “We like your idea of a pedal-powered cell phone charger because it is easy and convenient to use. It is very cheap. It is not dangerous to use even for kids like us.”

This was the Robotic Rebels’ second year competing in the FLL. They have embraced the league’s Core Values, including teamwork, “cooperation” and “gracious professionalism” and have shown by example their team motto: It’s the journey, not the destination.