The Force is strong in this team: Robotics team begins Jedi training

The CyberKnights opened their 2019 schedule last weekend in Utica, N.Y. where the team joined the winning alliance. (Photo by Tayler DePaolo)
This year’s challenge has a Star Wars theme, but that’s no problem for the CyberKnights. The FIRST Robotics team was a force last winter, winning six banners. Last Saturday the team unveiled this year’s challenge at the municipal center. Above, team mentor Gino Brino, right, and team captain Kristen Gorham, back, donned Jedi gear for the launch, and the team brought a special CyberKnight, “Sami” the robot, who was built by the team. (Photo by Janelle Morelli)



The municipal center assembly room was surging with the force on Jan. 4 as the Southington High School FIRST Robotics Team 195, the CyberKnights, gathered for the 2020 season kickoff event. This year’s game, “Infinite Recharge,” is sure to be a challenge.

Coming off of a season that placed the team third in the world, the CyberKnights were eager for the big reveal of this year’s game. Last year, the team brought six banners back to Southington—the only team in the world to do so. The young engineers-in-training were ready to dive into 2020 and break new records.

“For most of us here, we’ve been waiting for this day since we left Detroit last April,” said team mentor Gino Brino. “In the last decade, we’ve been in the top ten a multitude of times. Let’s keep that going in the next decade.”

Sami the robot. (Photo by Janelle Morelli)

This year, FIRST Robotics has partnered with Disney and Lucasfilm as part of the Star Wars: Force for Change initiative. Brino called on a scene from “Star Wars Episode V: Empire Strikes Back” to motivate the students. Yoda is training Luke Skywalker, and asks him to use the force to lift his spaceship. Skywalker tells Yoda he will try, but that is not good enough for Yoda. He tells Skywalker, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

“You must believe in what you do,” said Brino. “But, be careful. We aren’t telling you not to try. We are telling you to give it your best effort. Winning is a plus—it’s all about giving it your best effort.”

The team gathered and waited patiently for the game reveal as the live stream FIRST Robotics kickoff played on the screen. They heard words of encouragement from FIRST Robotics founder Dean Kamer, FIRST Robotics president Larry Cohen, and even the actor behind Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill himself.

Hamill said, in this year’s game, asteroids and other forces are threatening the FIRST City, but he was not concerned. FIRST Robotics teams would use technology for good, and thus protect the city from danger.

In the game, teams were to build a robot that could collect and transport “renewable energy cells” to the “powerports” on the playing field. The “energy cells” are round tablets, like large coins. The powerports are towers that feature three potential collection slots—power cells can be dropped into any slot, but each one is worth a different number of points.

Teams work with an alliance, so there are four teams on the playing field at one time. The alliance works together to get as many energy cells into the powerports, and as many points, as possible. Then, at the end, they must be able to grab onto a platform and lift up off the ground to safety.

CyberKnight captain Kristen Gorham, left, dances with Sami the Robot at the CyberKnights kickoff at the municipal center last Saturday. (Photo by Janelle Morelli)

“We have teams of smart, focused, creative people who will use technology for good. A couple of asteroids are not going to bother us,” said founder Kamer. “Our teams will keep us one step ahead of danger and prove that technology, when properly applied, will save the world.”

SHS principal Frank Pepe said he is proud to be a part of the Southington CyberKnights.

“This is the exact thing we are trying to push out across the board administratively—perseverance, communication skills, critical thinking, and drive,” said Pepe. “You all practice that every day.”

The season officially began with the live-streaming of the 2020 game reveal. Now, teams across the world are hard at work building a robot that will stand the test of “Infinite Recharge” and bring banners home to their communities.

To follow along with Team 195 CyberKnights this season, visit or find the team on Facebook.

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