Beach Biotics team wins first place in international contest

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Beach Biotics team members, from left, are Emily McPherson, James Kellam, Kieran Ashton, Christian Ambrocio, Arnaut Anguilar, Bryan Velazquez, Rex Blahut and Ariana Cavano. The robot is dubbed "Viper" and will be used in a couple of robotic competitions

The Hilton Head Island High School's robotics team, known as "Beach Biotics," took the world by storm on Jan. 11 by emerging victorious at the 2017 Zero Robotics International Space Station (ISS) competition in Boston.

This international event brought together 230 teams from over 50 different countries to write computer programs tasked with directing an autonomous drilling satellite to collect ice samples from Enceladus, Saturn's sixth largest moon.

These programs were then tested live by astronauts aboard the ISS, with results being broadcasted live via webcast.

Through a string of early victories, the Hilton Head team, consisting of senior captain Bryan Velazquez and sophomores Arnaut Anguilar, Christian Ambrocio and Kieran Ashton, entered the finals ranked number one in the world.

There, they formed an alliance with the Instituto Tecnico Industriale Statale G.B. Pininfarina and the Instituto Tecnico Industriale Statale G. Galilie, two prestigious Italian schools who worked with the Hilton Head team through social media to construct the winning code.

"We needed to choose an alliance that complimented us the best," said Velazquez. "Everything we were bad at, they were good at. We were very good with the coding. They were very good with the strategy."

Each team member had a specific role to play in the final competition. Velazquez, the team captain, led the team while Ashton, the code cruncher, worked to condense the computer code to fit the competition's standards.

Aguilar, nicknamed "The Gatekeeper," ran upwards of 1,000 simulation test runs in preparation for the event, and Ambrocio, the strategist, created data tables and gathered key data on the opposing teams.

The victory for Beach Biotics rides on the commitment exhibited by both the team and their mentor, Hilton Head High School teacher John Quindlen. Everything the team does is extracurricular and on their own time, and finances and transportation are always a concern.

"Our generation put us on the moon, these kids are going to put us on Mars," said Quindlen. "It's a pleasure to work with them. They keep me young."

Beach Biotics' next venture involves a brand new robot, code named "Viper," who will be competing in a series of events this semester. Viper is an autonomous robot built from the ground up by the Hilton Head team.

It's programmed to complete a standardized obstacle course through autonomous action combined with manual control through the use of Xbox 360 video game controllers.

Beach Biotics and Viper will be competing in an event running through early March and again later in the semester.

Sam Posthuma is a local freelance writer.

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