Robbinsville High’s Niratjot Grewal celebrates as Nemesis climbs to the top of the Airship during competition in Montréal last month. (Photo by Amanda Quon and Emily Marsch.)

By Liam O’Toole and Julia Ruch

It’s 19 degrees, amid a swirl of French, English and the palpable exuberance of Montréal, and members of the Robbinsville FIRST Robotics team Nemesis 2590 are gearing up for Festival De Robitque in Quebec, marking the team’s third visit in 10 years. But they’re not alone. Teams from across Canada, France, the United States, and Morocco have gathered here to compete in the FRC 2017 design challenge: FIRST Steamworks.

After six weeks of 15-hour days of CADing, virtually testing, and fabricating parts in-house, Nemesis finished Eris, its 2017 competition robot. Fast, adaptable and capable of picking up game pieces off the floor to score, Eris does it all, embodying the cooperation between students and their guiding mentors: Peter Wolfe, Jeff Keller, Marc Began, John Ruch, Tom Young and Alex Marincas. A shooter, climber, dual-speed drivetrain, and an innovative dustpan gear intake makes Eris an offensive playing powerhouse. Such versatility earned Nemesis the Industrial Design Award at the Springside-Chestnut Hill District Event.

The pressure and high stakes aren’t limited to the field. Based on the team’s sustainability, fiscal responsibility, professional image and community service, judges at the Hatboro-Horsham District Event honored Nemesis with the prestigious Entrepreneurship Award. Nemesis runs like a business with six subteams: build, marketing, finance, operations, social media, and software (guided by Peter Barlis, Joy Wolfe, Shilpa Vast, and Karen Young). Nemesis’ social media team documents all of the team’s endeavours through articles and photographs on the team website.

They were all in Canada for FIRST Steamworks, which was inspired by steam power technology from the Industrial Revolution. The competition features two alliances of three robots each. The game starts with a 15-second autonomous period in which robots operate solely through pre-coded instructions. The remaining 2 minutes and 15 seconds of each match consists of fierce competition between the alliances in which robots are student driven. Each alliance’s goal is to pick up gears and bring them to the airship, an elevated platform located within the field. Teams are also tasked with preparing the airship for takeoff by collecting as much fuel (balls) as possible and shooting it into the boiler (goal). In the last 30 seconds of the match, robots climb onto the airship via a rope, which earns additional points. The alliance with the most points at the end of the match wins.

During the high-pressure, pre-programmed autonomous period, Eris delivered valuable gears to the airships from code written by students Conner Hofenbitzer, John Miranda, and James Aikins, mentored by Jeff Keller, Peter Wolfe and John Ruch. After these 15 seconds, driver Dahany Choi entered the pilot’s seat, racing Eris down the field, avoiding defensive robots, debris, and other game pieces to the pickup station. Here, Aditya Pillai dropped gears near Eris, which swept them into its dustpan intake.

Choi whipped Eris around for the dash back to Niratjot Grewal, stationed at the Airship. Grewal pulled the gear onto the platform, slammed it onto the rotor pegs, and turned the crank to spin the gear train to activate the rotors. In the last 30 seconds, Grewal dropped a rope, which Choi maneuvered the robot beneath. Eris’ velcro coated climber grabbed the rope, and winds the 120-pound robot up to the top. It climbed 6 feet in the air in 4 seconds to score a crucial 50 points.

The drive team is backed up by drive coach Harsha Pavuluri and Nemesis’ crack pit crew—Charlie D’Amico, Matthew Began and electrical whizz Mariko McMurtry—who are prepared to tackle any repair at any given moment.

“This has been a phenomenal experience,” RHS senior Charlie D’Amico said. “We have the freedom, yet the responsibility, to design and build this world-class robot. I’m proud to be a part of this extremely dedicated team.”

Outside of competition, the Robbinsville students exposed themselves to a new culture. The team spent a day exploring the streets of Old Montréal, starting at the gothic Notre Dame Basilica. Among their adventures, Nemesis happened upon a French cafe, complete with a live pianist. Members visited the modern PHI Center for virtual reality, where they experienced 3D, 360-degree view movies of Jurassic World, Yosemite National Park, and Cirque de Soleil. Nemesis perused the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.

Inside Complexe sportif Claude-Robillard, Nemesis, the returning 2-time champions of the Montréal Festival de Robotique, hoped to qualify for the MAR and FIRST World Championships. The competition ended after this edition went to press.

Nemesis sends thanks to Robbinsville High School, NAVAIR, CCL Label, DoDStem, Knowledgement, Nordson, Leidos, the Robbinsville Educator Association, Lockheed Martin, Sharbell Development Corp., the New York Society of Cosmetic Chemists, Investors Bank, RAS, the Robbinsville Education Foundation, Triangle Copy, Skylink, Coldwell Banker, Northstar Vets, Princeton Sports and Family Medicine, Designtree, Siemens, SRI, McGraw Hill Financial, as well as all the Friends and Family of Nemesis.

For more information or make a donation to the Robbinsville High School’s robotics team 2590 Nemesis, go online to