West Hudson teens heading to Houston for robotics championship

Four West Hudson teens — Isabella Fernandes-Santinho, Emma Fernandes-Santinho and Sofia Matos, of Kearny and Lyla Mortimer, of Harrison —will compete in the 2023 FIRST World Championship taking place in Houston, from April 18-22.

This culminating event of the youth robotics season brings together many of the top robotics teams from across the globe in an annual celebration of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The teens, all students at High Tech High School in Secaucus, are members of Questionable Engineering, Hudson County’s first community-based FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) high school robotics team, Paula Fernandes, mom of the Fernandes-Santinho sisters, said.

Founded in August 2022, QE, as the team is affectionally known, debuted with a first-place finish in the team’s first-ever district championship in Robbinsville, followed by a second=place showing in Warren Hills.

The team then qualified to compete in the FIRST Mid-Atlantic District Championship in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where they earned the Mid-Atlantic District Rookie All Star Award and advanced to the 2023 FIRST World championship.

QE was founded out of a parent’s Jersey City garage by a group of friends with a passion for robotics and they spread the word across Hudson County to attract high schoolers from three local schools.  With a shoestring budget, the support of parents, the robotics community and local sponsors, the team planned, designed and built a 125-pound robot.

QE’s robot is coded in Java to wirelessly execute the competition’s challenges of picking up and placing down inflatable cubes and cones, skills similar to what an Amazon warehouse robot does to collect and ship consumer goods.

The competition requires an autonomous, driver-free portion — where a robot executes a 15-second, pre-programmed series of movements; a driver-controlled portion of competition against other teams; and a final moment of balancing the robot on a seesaw-like charging station.

Robotics requires applying advanced STEM concepts, teamwork and community outreach.

QE senior Emma Fernandes-Santinho said: “I’m so thrilled to have found such an impactful and inspiring community. The skills, relationships and experiences I’ve built because of this program are irreplaceable and I’m proud to call myself a member of QE.”

QE’s coach Dave Slurz, who is also a rookie to FRC, was honored with the Woodie Flowers nomination and the Donald Bowers Inspiration award this season.

“When you have a group of high school kids so determined to create a robotics program that they are willing to start one from scratch, you know you have some fearless competitors,” Slurz said.

QE is mentored by reps from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken and industry and major sponsors Gearwrench, Apex Tool Group, 3M, Gene Haas and Picatinny Stem.

The team is still looking to raise funds to cover registration and team and equipment travel costs to Houston, and to cement the future of their robotics program. Any and all financial support for may can be directed to www.gofundme.com/f/qecmp.  If you would like to join the team or request a demo, send an email message to questionableengineeringfrc@gmail.com.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.