PJ zero robotics club helps alliance team place 3rd in world at ISS Finals


Director of Communications

Pope John XXIII Regional High School



 The Pope John XXIII Regional High School zero robotics club can say with certainty that it is one of the best clubs in the world.

That’s because the zero robotics club helped its alliance team place third in the world at the Zero Robotics High School Tournament International Space Station Finals on Jan. 28 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

The ISS Finals featured 14 alliances from around the world and the alliances faced each other in a competition in which they had to command a MIT-created robot on the International Space Station, navigate it to a disabled satellite, hook onto the disabled satellite, and tow it to safety while avoiding space debris in the fastest time possible.

“This was incredible,” Pope John senior Jacky Thorward said of the third-place finish. “The competition was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s the best thing that we’ve accomplished in my high school career.”

“It was crazy,” Pope John senior Christopher Biancone said. “It was just a great experience for us.”

Along with Thorward and Biancone, the Pope John zero robotics club also includes seniors Zhenyuan (Henry) Gong and Hongyue Jin; juniors Patryk Lewicki, Jonathan Meyers, Rohan Mukundhan, Michael Pacholarz, and Evan Rizzo; freshman Zoe Rizzo. The club competed under the name Team Kühlschrank and worked with a team from Virginia named Bacon and a team from Italy named ZRighi to form the alliance Pizza&Bacon. 

Together, they scored nine points to finish six points behind Naughty Dark Spaghetti and ended tied with Hit or Miss. Due to a tiebreaker, Hit or Miss officially came in second place.

However, the Pope John zero robotics club felt it gained a ton of valuable experience because every member was new to the team with the exception of Thorward.

“This was basically a learning experience for us,” Biancone said. “We had to really work hard to understand what exactly to do with the coding in order to program these robots to go and hook onto the satellite.”

While trying to understand these intricacies was difficult enough, the zero robotics club also had to learn how to work with their national and international teammates while doing tons of trial runs.

“We actually ran into some of our teammates from Virigina at the event,” Thorward said. “But, the team from Italy, we had to just constantly reach out to them to make sure we were all on the same page before we did the actual simulation.”

Despite the challenges, Pope John zero robotics club first-year faculty advisor Joe Giovannone was impressed with his students’ performance.

“I really enjoyed seeing them work together to overcome difficult challenges all throughout the year,” Giovannone said. “It was great to see all of their hard work pay off in the finals.  The whole competition is a wonderful chance for students to take what they have learned in their classes and apply it to a real life problem.”

More importantly, Giovannone and the rest of the club felt so thrilled to put Pope John’s zero robotics program on the map. After all, their work will be used by MIT’s researchers as the school continues to try to improve the ISS.

“I am thrilled to have so many students excited about robotics and programming,” Giovannone said. “It says a lot about their commitment to the competition when they spend so much time working on the code and coming up with strategies.”

“This is a proud moment for our club,” Thorward said. “It’s amazing what we did.”

“It’s very special,” Biancone said. “It was definitely great to be a part of something so much bigger than us and having our work actually impact the International Space Station.”

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