Local Students Build Robot, Look to Future

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Team "Linbots" is a group of middle school students from Linwood and Somers Point who created their own robotics club. They include Farley O'Brien, at left, and Emma Savov. In back at left is Nate Fontana and Alex Savov. In the middle is 92018A, their robot.

By Maddy Vitale

Some kids play basketball. Some kids take dance.

And then there are those who dabble in something a bit more involved.

They make robots.

A group of middle school students do just that. Since their schools don’t have robotics clubs, the budding engineers created their own.

Emma Savov, 14, her brother, Alex, 11, and Farley O’Brien, 13, all of Linwood, and Nate Fontana, 13, of Somers Point, worked together over the last year to create a robot that they use in competitions.

Since three of them live in Linwood, and that is where they work, it didn’t take much time before Emma picked a name all approved of.

“We’re the Linbots,” she said with a big smile Friday alongside her teammates.

And while they do it for the love of engineering, these young problem solvers have a bit of a competitive side. In fact, they are not only excelling at their robot-making techniques, they collaborate, disagree, agree and learn from each other with the ultimate goal of presenting a product they are proud of.

They are being noticed. In fact, they are winning at VEX Robotics competitions.

The Linbots won a design portion of a competition a few weeks ago, which qualified them for the state competition Feb. 23 in Millville, Cumberland County.

The robot’s name is 92018A. Simply put, it is the date the team started building the robot.

But there is nothing simplistic about this group of children.

On Friday, the kids showcased what their robot can do. The Savov living room is set aside for practice. The adjoining room is their workshop. It resembles a dining room, but the table is filled with neatly organized rows of metal and plastic pieces and tools.

It is the Linbots workroom, where the robot is created.

They meet twice a week for about eight hours total to decide what they should change, improve or create for their robot.

Team Linbots work together to make sure their robot is ready for the competition. From left, Alex Savov, Nate Fontana, Farley O’Brien and Emma Savov.

Emma used the controls to guide 92018A down three platforms, around a course and stopped.

The next goal would be to pick up a plastic cap and place it atop one of their poles.

It is a feat that looks easy enough, but one that many other teams can’t seem to do successfully, Alex explained.

It isn’t a surprise that these kids have similar career goals.

“I really like marine science. I want to be an engineer,” Alex said.

Emma likes the design aspect of the work, whereas Nate wants to be an aerospace engineer.

Farley said she may want to be an engineer like her parents, Liz and Kevin O’Brien. She also likes writing.

“We have a lot of fun,” Farley said. “There are not a lot of teams around here. There are a couple.”

Alex said because he is the youngest of his teammates and younger than most of the people in the competition, he gains a different perspective on things while at the challenges.

“It’s really fun to work with older people who like robotics and young people who understand it,” Alex explained.

Alex Savov gets to work.

The team will be competing against mostly school teams. The ages range from middle school to high school.

If the Linbots win the “Middle School Excellence Award,” they will be heading to Louisville, Ky., for the world competition in April. Their parents have set up a GoFundMe page to help finance their trip.To donate, go to https://www.gofundme.com/worlds-funding-linbots-nj-vex-robotics-2019

According to the VEX Robotics website www.vexrobotics.com, it is the largest and fastest growing middle school and high school robotics program globally with more than 20,000 teams from 50 countries playing in over 1,700 competitions worldwide. Each year, an engineering challenge is presented in the form of a game.

Emma, Alex and Farley all attend Belhaven Middle School in Linwood. Nate goes to Jordan Road School in Somers Point. 

The kids said they hope their schools will one day have a robotics team. Emma took much of what she learned when she joined a club at the Egg Harbor Township PAL (Police Athletic League) back to her team of Linbots. She said she owes a lot of credit to the PAL robotics club.

“The kids are so impressive,” Liz O’Brien said. “The kids are just amazing.”

She said the teams really work together to solve problems. If something goes wrong out on the floor, the kids have to go back into an area and try to devise something to make it work. And if something breaks, which happens with colliding robots, the team members have to go in and fix it.

The Savov siblings’ mother, Daniela Savov, said she is so proud of her children, and the rest of the team, for their dedication.

“It is such an accomplishment. It gives them real world experience. They are interviewed by judges,” Savov said. “They work with other teams. There are a lot of technical skills being used, but also a lot of communication skills.”

For Nate’s mother, Kim Fontana, the robot challenges are as exciting as their other son Noah’s wrestling matches.

“I equate it to wrestling,” Fontana said. “It is exciting. A lot happens.”

Team awards are placed on the fireplace at the Savov home in Linwood to showcase the accomplishments of the Linbots.