The Robotics Team

In an unassuming portable classroom tucked behind the old TPHS lunch counters sits a world of power tools and scrap metal. Diagrams and formulas fill every inch of the whiteboard. Royal blue banners that read, “First Robotics Competition, Winner” line the walls, showcasing victories from years past. This is the home base of the TPHS robotics team, the Millennium Falcons. Today, the team is fixing a broken wheel on their robot, AV7, that was damaged during one of the Falcons’ last competitions, Tidal Tumble, where the team won first place. As team President Eric Grun (12) and Head of Design Ethan Lemke (12) service the faulty wheel, they embody the most “appealing” factor of robotics in Grun’s eyes: how different each practice is. 

“Some days I’ll be building a new mechanism for the robot, a gearbox for the arm or whatever. And then the next day I could be taking it apart, trying to fix whatever broke,” Grun said. “You get a lot of breakages. That happens with the game.”

This dynamic environment is what drives the robotics team. With four technical departments — Build, Design, Programming and Electrical — and four non-technical ones — Media, Finance, Outreach and Scouting — there are many moving parts that work together to create the Falcons’ bots. However, according to Head of Build Ella Ju (12), team members are able to branch out of their respective departments. Ju demonstrated this as she took a lesson on wiring with Head of Electrical Seobin Oh (12).

“That’s the thing about robotics. It’s not like you’re assigned a certain topic or group and you’re sticking to that. You help each other in every aspect possible,” Ju said. “Since I have a lot of time right now, I’m also trying to learn a little bit about electrical because with that knowledge I could also help if I can.”

Oh agreed that team members are always learning. 

“Even though I’m the head of electrical, I still have a lot to learn. Every time I come [to practice] I feel like I’m learning something new,” Oh said. 

Last year, after placing fourth at the FRC Idaho Regional Competition, the Millennium Falcons qualified for the FRC World Championship. There, teams from across the world took part in competitions during which their robots intake cones and cubes and methodically place them into grids — displaying the robots’ autonomous and manual abilities. The Falcons placed 18th in their division at the world championship. 

“We didn’t get too far [in the competition],” Lemke said. “Even if we lost, it’s all about the community. It’s a huge stadium and there are so many people who are just like us who love robots. You’re so easily able to interact with everyone and everyone has the same feelings as you.”

The Millennium Falcons continue this idea of cross-team interaction by making the code for their robot publicly accessible on their website. 

“We make all of our code public so other teams can see it and reference it if they need to,” Head of Programming Edison Shen (12) said. “Because one of the big parts of First, the organization that runs robotics, is gracious professionalism.”  

From collaboration between departments to “gracious professionalism,” the Falcons foster an environment centered around learning. Most important in the team’s mission to make robotics accessible is how they do not  require previous knowledge of robotics to join the team. 

“Most of the people that come in have never built anything in their life and yet, after a couple years, they’re at the top of the game,” Lead Mentor Klint Kirkconnell said. “And we don’t just need people who are good at designing — we need people who can write because we have to write to companies to get our money. So it doesn’t matter what thing you like doing because we have a place for you here.”

This ability to find one’s place results in what, to Head of Media Talena Ladendorf (12), feels like a “little family.”

“The friendships that you make within the team are just really wholesome,” Ladendorf said. “Even going to competitions, you don’t really feel outcast by anyone because you all have one thing in common and that’s robotics.” 

Joined by a shared passion for the world of robotics and fueled by the principle of continuous improvement, the Millennium Falcons welcome the TPHS community to their award-lined classroom, which, like Kirkconnell said, is “a  place for everyone.”

Photos by Caroline Hunt/Falconer

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