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The Beasts from the East, Pierson Robotics Team Starts Work on New Competitive Robot

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The Harpoon, the Pierson Robotics Team robot, competes in last year's FIRST Robotics Competition Long Island Regional Event at Stony Brook University.

The Harpoon, the Pierson Robotics Team robot, competes in last year’s FIRST Robotics Competition Long Island Regional Event at Stony Brook University.

By Tessa Raebeck

They design, build and program robots, fundraise for their team and build alliances for intense competition — and they do it all on free periods, during lunch and after school.

Having just received the regulations for this year’s game, the 30 students on the Pierson Robotics Team are now hard at work preparing a unique robot model for battle.

The Pierson Whalers robotics team, whose members call themselves “The Beasts from the East,” is more than an after school club; students spend hours researching and designing, building in the lab and trucking up and down Main Street in search of sponsors. They maintain active Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages and a team website and share accounts in robot chat rooms or informative forums.

“Those who are really involved are there all the time, after school, at lunch, all the time,” said Abi Gianis, a junior at Pierson who joined the team as a sophomore. “We work in our free periods as well, at least we try to.”

When the schools were closed early Tuesday afternoon due to inclement weather, team leaders Lucas Pickering and Alex Cohen were hard at work in the Pierson Middle/High School basement.

The team meets throughout the school year, but they are now in fierce preparation for April, when their finished robot will compete in the three-day Long Island Regional competition at Hofstra University. Now in its 15th year, the Long Island Regional has grown from eight teams to near 50.

The international competition, or the “Superbowl of Smarts,” has grown to over 2,000 teams, with 40 regional events from Israel to Brazil.

Established in 1995, the Pierson Robotics team won the second Long Island Regional Competition in 2000 and was a finalist in 2001, 2002 and 2004. Out of thousands of teams competing in US FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), the Beasts from the East are proud to note their team number is 28, representing their veteran status

In addition to points gained in direct competition, teams are judged on excellence in design, demonstrated team spirit, professionalism and maturity, and ability to overcome obstacles. Pierson received Judges Awards in 1998 and 2000.

“Winning means building partnerships that last,” the Beasts from the East say on their team website.

FRC released the rules and framework of the competition January 4, and the students have been hard at work designing and constructing their model ever since. They have six weeks to prepare their robot, meaning the deadline is less than a month away — and this is crunch time.

FRC challenges competing teams to solve a common problem under the same rules and using the same standard “kit of parts” to build a robot that weighs around 130 pounds.

“They’re working on prototypes now and they’re starting to build it,” said Gayle Pickering, who mentors the team along with her husband Rick, Robotics Coordinator Clint Schulman and Robotics Assistant Rob Coe. Four students from East Hampton High School are also on the team and shop teacher Trevor Gregory works with the Sag Harbor mentors.

This year’s game, Aerial Assist, requires two alliances of three robots each. The three-team alliances compete against each other in a game sort of like robot basketball. The robot must be able to lift up and throw a ball that is two feet in diameter. Last year’s Pierson robot, named the “Harpoon” but also called “Mission Impossible,” shot Frisbees across a court.

The Harpoon, the Pierson Robotic Team's entry into last year's FIRST Robotics Competition.

The Harpoon, the Pierson Robotic Team’s entry into last year’s FIRST Robotics Competition.

Since the game requires an alliance this year, the Pierson team must market itself to teams from other school districts and scout out potential partners.

“We’re challenged,” said Gianis, “to make a robot that can not only pick up a ball with a two foot diameter, but also cooperate with other robots that we have never interacted with before and help assist them.”

Looking for more female engineers, Shulman encouraged Gianis and friend Clara Oppenheimer to join the team last year. Now the two are being trained to program the robot next year when the senior programmers graduate.

“It’s a game for nerds,” Pickering said, “but anybody can participate.”

Real Estate Value Not a Valid Argument for a Variance, Says Sag Zoning Board

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Ann Hotung’s desire to sell her historic Suffolk Street residence was not good enough cause for the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals to grant her an application for a variance to allow a swimming pool on her lot.

Hotung, who owns 9 Suffolk Street, came to the board hoping to gain a variance that would allow her to build a swimming pool within 10-feet of the side lot line where 15-feet is required.

According to David Meeves, representing Hotung at the hearing, she needs the variance in order to gain approval from the Suffolk County Health Department for a new septic system planned in concert with the swimming pool.

Meeves said the pool was necessary to sell the residence, which while once valued at $3 million has been reduced to just under $2 million and has been listed with local realtors with nary a single offer on the property.

Immediately, zoning board members appeared skeptical.

“I don’t like the argument,” said board member Anton Hagen. “It is hellacious as far as I am concerned.”

Hagen suggested the property owner look at reducing the price of the house if in fact a sale is so necessary.

“You are asking us to approve a variance so you can maximize the price of the house,” he said.

Board chairwoman Gayle Pickering added she was concerned about the impact on the neighbors if they allowed the pool to be built.

“Pools generate noise,” she said.

Board member Michael Bromberg also took issue with the application.

“The hardship you are presenting is a house in Sag Harbor isn’t marketable unless it has either a swimming pool or if you can sell the variance for a swimming pool when you sell the house,” he said. “I don’t think that is the kind of hardship we are here to deal with.”

Neighbor Duncan Haile came out strongly against the application, noting ongoing issues he has had with Hotung and the fact the pool would be literally 15-feet from his kitchen window. The application was voted down unanimously.

In other ZBA news, Brad Penuel and Andressa Costa were granted a variance for their 51 Harrison Street home in order to add a 358-square-foot expansion. T & K Redwood Associates were also given a variance to construct a new residence at their 64 Redwood Road home. Both applications will formally receive their determinations at next month’s December 20 meeting of the Sag Harbor ZBA.

At Ship Ashore, Boats “Packed Like Sardines”

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boats packed adjusted

Usually, this time of year, the Ship Ashore Marina boat yard is a dusty expanse that curves along a few hundred feet of Sag Harbor Cove.  While boats tend to come in and out of the water at regular intervals, they’re either stored in a massive shed on the property or tied up to the dock near the shallow shore.

Hurricane Irene has changed all that.

“They’re packed like sardines!” one boat-owner exclaimed as he walked through the yard.

According Gayle Pickering, whose husband Rick owns Ship Ashore Marina, boat crews worked at a pace of about one boat every 20 minutes ultimately managing to pull precisely 60 boats to land on Thursday, bringing the total of land-bound vessels to roughly 250.  (The marina has five to six full-time employees, in addition to another four people—including the Pickerings’ teenage son, Adrian—who have been helping the crew for the last couple of days.)

Walking past a veritable peninsula of ground boats propped up by steel holdings and wooden pilings, Pickering explained that the row of boats stretched back five, in some cases six rows.  “A lot of the boats in the back came out of the water on Wednesday,” she said, referencing two navy-blue Hinckley Picnic boats.  Those the types of boats with insurance policies that mandate mariners to pull them ashore at the first hint of a storm like Irene, Pickering explained.

While some boats were picked up by boat owners who will store the vessels elsewhere, “some people won’t take their boats out of the water,” she added with a shrug.  As for sailboats, Pickering said those will have to ride the storm immersed in waves because “we simply didn’t have the staff to take down the sailboat masts in time.”