Robots do battle at SUNY Sullivan

By Eli Ruiz

Catskill VEX-U’s collegiate robotics competition made its SUNY Sullivan debut at Kaplan Hall on Saturday February 18, bringing with it several teams from up and down the East Coast.

Also making its debut was SUNY-Sullivan’s first ever robotics team, “Functional Decomposition,” who also participated in the event. Led by team captain, Nicholas Clark, the Functional Decomposition squad had a tough go of it Saturday, as their single robot had some performance issues and had to be repaired on two occasions.

Mr. Clark, who will graduate in May with two AAS degrees, in Computer Programming, and Simulation and Game Development, says he has been using computers since he was two years old.

“Every step along the way, I learned something more about technology and engineering,” he says. “Careers fields related to technology and mathematics are more than numerous, and there are even more specializations for them. It’s a big world to get lost in, but it’s also a great way to open yourself up to things that you may enjoy.”

Robotics seemed a natural extension of his longtime interests.

Teammate Nathaniel Martin, a Simulation and Game Development major at Sullivan, said he was disappointed the team didn’t fare better, but cited the experience as invaluable.

“It was tough, but we were just excited to be able to be a part of it,” he said. “It’s less Robot Wars and more a kind of motor skills competition.”

Nick Passaretti, with the New York Institute of Technology, does some finishing touches on his team’s robot, Larry, in the practice ring at the February 18 Catskills VEX-U Robotics Competition at SUNY Sullivan’s Kaplan Hall. Looking on is teammate, Yichago Zhang.

Sponsored by VEX Robotics Corporation, out of Ontario, Canada, and spearheaded by event partner and SUNY-Sullivan computer science professor, Dr. Cynthia Marcello, the event pitted teams from Rutgers University (NJ), New Jersey Institute of Technology, Fairmont State University (WV), Old Dominion University (VA), New York Institute of Technology, and SUNY-Sullivan against each other in skill events. In an unfortunate sign of the times, the so-called Scarborough Chinese Robotics Team out of University of Toronto was unable to cross into the U.S. due to visa issues and missed the competition.

This wasn’t the first such event to have Dr. Marcello’s name attached to it; she also acted as event partner for the December 6, 2016 VRC robotics competition held in conjunction with the Fallsburg Central School District. “Last summer, I signed up as an event partner with REC Foundation because I saw it as a great opportunity to support a variety of educational partners like middle schools, high schools and universities in reaching a diverse population of students for the purposes of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education,” offered Dr. Marcello. “I believe that it is essential for educators to ready students to be well prepared for a 21st century workforce.”

As for the actual robots, the androids are built from scratch from kits purchased at the VEX Robotics website. Prices vary depending on the complexity, size and functionality of the robots, and can cost upwards of a thousand dollars.

“Depending on how much help you have, and the complexity of the kit, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to put them together,” Mr. Martin said, “It’s the best part, though.”The event was emceed by none other than Hurleyville DJ Corey Gips of Partymaster Entertainment, who also got into the “robot” act with the local company’s robotic, 360° camera, which fed its high definition signal into a massive 80-inch monitor, also courtesy of Party Master.

“It’s an incredible camera which not only feeds into the large monitor, but also to a smaller monitor at the judges’ table,” explained Mr. Gips. “It not only shows the audience what’s going on, it also allows the judges to keep a close eye on the action and can even allow for slow motion replays, possibly changing a result .”As for those results, awards were handed out in three categories: Excellence; Design; and a Judges’ Award.

Several college robotics teams from around the country went head-to-head at Saturday’s Catskills VEX U Robotics Competition at SUNY Sullivan. Pictured is the squad representing New York Institute of Technology. Left to right: Yichago Zahng, Nick Passaretti, Renzo Rillas, Alex Duong and Kayla Ho.

Rutgers University’s “Screw’d” team took the day’s top honor, the Excellence Award. The Design Award went to Old Dominion, while Fairmont State garnered the Judges’ Award. In winning the Excellence Award, Rutgers qualified for the World Championships.As for future such events, Dr. Marcello is optimistic.“This is our first VEX-U event and we certainly look forward to hosting more events in the upcoming season,” she said. “Unfortunately, and still in this day and age, many students in underrepresented groups do not get opportunities to explore science, technology, engineering and math in an applied, hands-on manner. Robotics is useful in reaching students who perhaps struggle with math concepts due to a level of abstraction.”To learn more about robotics competition, visit

To purchase your own robotics kit, visit