Edison Academy Junior Wins Robotics Competition in NASA summer program

September 30th, 2013

Contact: Dr. Linda Russo, principal, (732) 452-2600

For Vivek Jain, a junior at Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools’ Edison Academy, summer vacation brought a chance to use what he has learned in his engineering classes in a NASA internship program.

And Vivek, a 16-year-old from South River, demonstrated that he had learned well by being part of a two-student team that won the six-week program’s robotics competition.

Paired with a sophomore at the City University of New York, Vivek did all the computer programming and electrical engineering on the winning robot – nicknamed Doppelganger – while his partner handled the mechanical engineering.

Using light sensors and a microcontroller, they were challenged to come up with an autonomous robot – programmed to operate on its own — that could detect and extinguish light sources in an “enemy” territory before the other competitors.

“It’s like choreographing a dance,” Enzo Paterno, his computer and electrical engineering teacher, explained.  “It’s more complicated than using a joystick, as you engineer every move using low-level computer programming.  The challenge of this project was programming the robot for accuracy and performance.  I’m very proud of him.”

“We used the same microcontroller learned in class,” Vivek said. “I had experience with it already.”

After introductory programs at Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York City, Vivek and his partner were assigned to Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken to build their robot in a building overlooking the Hudson with spectacular views of Manhattan. They had four weeks to design, program, build and debug the robot.

“The applications I learned in school, we actually applied in the real world,” Vivek said.

The program, called the NASA New York City Research Initiative, has a competitive application process that requires both good grades and letters of recommendation. It assigns a mentor to each student selected and features presentations by NASA scientists on past and current projects.

Vivek received an award for winning the competition and a $2,100 stipend for the program. He plans on applying again for next summer.

“A lot of my family members are computer engineers and that influenced me to come into this field,” he said.

NASA kept the robot, which is being housed at Stevens Institute and is used in demonstrations there.

Another Edison Academy student, junior Pranav Subramanian, also was a NASA summer intern, working on a different project.

The MCVTS Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies was named a national Blue Ribbon School for 2013, one of six high schools in New Jersey to be cited as “exemplary high-performing schools.”

The Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School District, the first county vocational school district in the nation, has seven schools on five campuses, in East Brunswick, Edison, Piscataway, Perth Amboy and Woodbridge. The district will celebrate its centennial in 2014. ###


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