La Grange robotics club, the Cyborg Eagles, creating tomorrow's engineers

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014 11:54 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 2:03 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com)
Wearing an appropriate R2D2 t-shirt, Xavier Ntamere (from left), 9, of Oak Park, operates the controls to drop a cube into a box, under the coaching of Noah Reardon, 15; Thomas Maloney, 15; and Nate Wolcott, 14; all of La Grange. The Cyborg Eagles robotics club demonstrate their work to patrons at the Oak Park Public Library main branch on Friday.
Caption
(Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com)
Thomas Maloney (left), and Noah Reardon, both 15, of La Grange, members of the Cyborg Eagles robotics club share the controls as they demonstrate their work to patrons at the Oak Park Public Library main branch on Friday.
Caption
(Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com)
Nate Wolcott (right), 14, of La Grange, explains the task to be performed by the robot, to Xavier Ntamere, 9, of Oak Park. The Cyborg Eagles robotics club demonstrate their work to patrons at the Oak Park Public Library main branch on Friday.

LA GRANGE – Sure, they might build mini versions of the stuff in tech movies such as “Transformers,” but it’s not all fun and games for La Grange’s first robotics team. The team of four that call themselves the Cyborg Eagles pack a mighty punch. 

Jonah Reardon, 14; Nate Wolcott, 14; Noah Reardon, 15 – all from La Grange – make up one of the smallest rookie teams under the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology program. Together, the young tinkerers have conceptualized and created a robot entirely from scratch and entirely by chance. 

“I’ve always wanted to make a robot because I thought it would be cool,” Jonah said. His brother and father, who are both involved in the team, planted that “cool bug” in Jonah’s brain at a young age. 

“My older brother got into robotics ... so I wanted to join him, too, because I thought it was cool,” Jonah said. 

The Cyborg Eagles didn’t start out as a quest to fulfill a robotics passion though. In fact, it was much more simple; a family affair spearheaded by the Reardon family. 

“I’ve got some genetic involvement with a good portion of the team at this point,” said John Reardon, the team’s coach, and father of Noah and Jonah. 

After about a month of making hour-long trips back and forth to the Technical Center of DuPage with his kids and their friends for fun, a counselor and now mentor to the team, suggested John start a robotics team.

“We were kind of pushed into it,” John said. 

Soon after, the Reardon household quickly became the meeting site for all things robotics. The family interest spurred the launch of team. The Cyborg Eagles started as a FIRST Lego League team and advanced to the next level, a FIRST Tech Challenge team after only a year. 

“When we started building the robot, parts would go to different families to work on,” John said. “It became kind of like a family activity, which is one of the things I enjoy most about it.” 

A retired engineer, John now spends his time instilling his wisdom and knowledge into his children and their friends, time he thinks is well spent, but also crucial to the Cyborg Eagles.

“Everything in life is about project management,” John said. “You have to develop a strategy and then you have to figure out how to execute it, the finances of it ... Quite honestly, it’s is a ton of work.

“It has been a challenge,” John said. “As a rookie team, you have to create a business plan, look at the personalities involved, figure out who wants to do what, define the jobs and assign them to different people. Everyone has to have a role in your little company, and then you all work toward a goal, that being the competition.”

So far, the Cyborg Eagles have won the Engineering Award and the Inspire Award in FIRST competitions. They will compete at the FIRST state competition Feb. 22 in Chicago. The team’s charisma, spirit, enthusiasm and unique sense of style have helped the rookie team advance quickly in a short amount of time. 

“That was a very big surprise to us,” John said. “That was a result of the judging, they were impressed by the kids.” 

And the team made sure they paid close attention to detail when it came to impressing the judges. 

“We wanted a way to stand out from the crowd,” Nate Wolcott said. “They think of us as the hat people now, [because] we’re the only ones that wear hats. It makes us easy to spot.”

The Cyborg Eagles hope to move up to the last level to become a FIRST Robotics Competition team. They hope placing in the state competition will give them enough exposure to gain corporate sponsorship to be able to get to the next level. 

But no matter what happens, the experience is helping to shape and mold the team into the future problem solvers of tomorrow, a process that he as a father takes pride in being apart of. 

“It’s really a people story, the robots are secondary.”  

More information about the team and how to get involved can be found at the Cyborg Eagle’s website at www.cyborgeagles.weebly.com.

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