FIRST World Championship 2016

For the second year in a row, the RoboLancers traveled to St. Louis to compete at the FIRST World Championship. We had won the Chairman’s Award, the most prestigious award in FIRST, during MAR. It was a dream come true for us to attend Worlds once again.

Winning brought back many memories from last year. Some of those weren’t pretty (16+ hour long bus ride), but it didn’t tone down our excitement. Even though I was excited to go, I was more excited in showing and explaining to the younger members what the event would be like. I told them how great this competition was, how great the teams are from around the world, and the cool gadgets that companies would bring along to showcase. It was to show them the wonderful event they were going to be part of.

Worlds was just like last year: a big arena filled with nerds from all over the world. The stadium was filled with FIRST stuff such a shop for FIRST gear, cardboard cutouts of Dean Kamen, Woodie Flowers, and Don Bossi; and Team 4525’s giant cardboard robot. Roaming around the arena was fun because there mascots also that walked about. I took so many pictures of them that one of my teammates, Henry Dang, started complaining. Whoops.

Mascots weren’t the only things I took pictures with. While walking, I saw out of the corner of my eye someone familiar. I actually yanked Henry back once I recognized who the person was. It was Woodie Flowers. For the second year in a row, Henry and I got to meet Woodie Flowers and get his autograph. We even got to take a picture with him. 


For the matches we were in the Curie Division. We started off with a 124-66 victory in our first match. Then we moved up to 5th place with a score of 121-105 in our second match. Throughout the day we had a mixture of wins and losses. Sadly, we weren’t picked during the alliance selection but we gave shout outs to teams 1089 and 25 for representing FIRST Mid-Atlantic teams on the Curie Division as alliance captains. We ended the event in rank 30 (much better than last year’s rank 54) with a record of 5-5-0.

Other than the competition, the team got to do numerous activities such as attending the Innovation Faire, visiting the Gateway Arch, playing at the hotel’s arcade, and spending the night at Six Flags. Just bonding with friends and doing activities that weren’t robotics was a nice feeling.

Our time for the rest of the school year is running short. Our seniors will be graduating in June, and I can already tell there’s going to be tears during the RoboLancer’s senior send off. (There was so much crying last year). Worlds gave us an opportunity to grow closer as a family. 

This was our third time going to Worlds. Whether or not we go next year, we’ll continue to do our best and continue to spread STEM throughout the city of Philadelphia.

MAR Regional Championships

The Mid-Atlantic Robotic Competition started out as a blazing success for the RoboLancers. The first day of official competition ended with our team in the top 8 ranks, our Chairman’s division brimming  with confidence, and smiles on everyone’s faces. This feeling was something that I always love to feel at first competitions: the feeling of accomplishment that you get when everything goes right.

During the second day of competition we had more RoboLancers arriving to the arena, increasing the amount of cheer and motivation in the stands. The day went off pretty well, our robot worked with great success and we were standing in the top seeds for a while. We had little to no actual technical difficulties. Our team’s moral and excitement in the stands was higher then ever before. Every match was met with a large amount of chanting and cheers from the stands. Our offensive strategy and speed was not something anyone from the qualifying competitions would have expected from us. We were standing strong on our own and even stronger in our alliances. We were all having a great time and were excited for the alliance selection. Then we had a few rougher matches due to robot inactivity and connection problems but we still managed to make it to the 6th ranking alliance so we weren’t out of the mix yet.

Later on though we had to sub out of our alliance due to a gear coming out of place. It was a good competition for us and we could tell it left an impact on the teams around us. Once the award ceremony came around our team was itching for the announcement of the Chairman’s Award. Then when FIRST came around with their classic amount of puns regarding the Chairman’s winner we were all shaking in our seat from excitement because we knew we won the Chairman’s Award for the second year at MAR. Now our season won’t end quite yet as we prepare for the World Championship in St.Louis.

Westtown Mid-Atlantic District Competition

On Friday, April Fools, the RoboLancers arrived at Westtown for another competitive weekend. During the last competition, the RoboLancers encountered some obstacles such as connectivity issues and belt problems. Luckily, we were able to identify the source of the problems which included a broken radio and too much tension on the belts. The tension in the belts was compounded by a vicious and speedy drive which put a lot of excess force on the belts. To solve this, we purchased a new radio and swapped from belts to chains. However, during our first practice match, our chain popped off! We embarked on another rocky start. But thankfully, with the help of other gracious teams, we were able to try smaller pneumatic wheels which we believed would solve the problem. Little did we know, the wheels actually impeded us from driving over defenses during autonomous and teleop. We quickly switched back to the 10-inch pneumatic wheels but maneuvered less viscously. But at long last, we were left with a working robot!

The event ran really smoothly with the help of other teams and volunteers which we are extremely thankful for. We would like to specifically thank one of the robot inspectors, Brian Lucas, who guided us through our connectivity issues. We were very fortunate to be picked by the third alliance team, competing along side the Gearaffes (5404) and Fightin’ Robotic Owls (5401). The competition exemplified the spirit of FIRST and was extremely fun. The judges was also full of amity. The whole entire atmosphere was amazing, as expected from FIRST!

Springside Chestnut Hill

On March 18th and 19th, the RoboLancers competed in our first FRC qualifier of the 2016 season at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. At 8 AM, Team 321 entered the pits and stands. The spectators “conquered” (as we like to say) a portion of the stands, while the pit crew entered our pit to prepare our robot for competition. Our drivers for this season include Cordell Beatty, current senior and robot driver, Brian Matta, senior and manipulator controller, and Jonah Getz, junior and coach.

Our robot and drive team performed reasonably well for the first five matches, receiving a respectable 2-3 win-loss ratio. When our 6th qualifying match (qualifying match #30) came about, our robot failed to connect to the system and the drive team was unable to control the robot. We were given little time to correct this error because, for the next two matches, we were required to queue for our next match right after finishing the earlier. We corrected our robot connection issue by replacing our router before our 9th match (qualifying match #47) and redeemed ourselves by winning two matches, losing one, and tying in our last qualifying match. We were not chosen to take part in the quarterfinals but, in the semi-finals, we were substituted into the game in the place of a malfunctioning robot. We played one last match alongside our close friends, Team 1218, Vulcan Robotics, but lost to the opposing alliance.

After our final match at the Springside Chestnut Hill Qualifier, our team continued to maintain a positive attitude in the stands and cheered on as Team 225, our friends and fellow competitors, and their alliance won their elimination matches and the finals.

The day ended with a trip through the High Five Line for winning the Chairman’s Award, the most prestigious award in FIRST Robotics. This ensures us a place in the FIRST Mid-Atlantic District Championship where we will again compete for the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Chairman’s Award and a chance to compete in the World Championships in St. Louis.

FIRST Stronghold

On January 9, 2016, the RoboLancers went to UPenn to attend the FRC kickoff where they watched Dean Kamen and Woodie Flowers roll through a forest on segways, make Monty Python references, and watch the reveal of the FRC 2016 game: FIRST Stronghold.

In Stronghold, teams must take over the opposing team’s castle by breaking through defenses, weaken the castle by launching boulders, and capturing the tower by challenging and/or scaling to it. Robots will have to navigate through different barriers in order to reach the other side. A unique feature about the game is the audience participation where the spectators are able to choose a defense barrier for each match.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to join my team members at the kickoff, but I was able to watch a live stream of the game at home. It was interesting to see the game’s field and how the game is to be played. In my opinion, Stronghold is much better than Recycle Rush. I love the medieval theme, with the field having giant towers for the alliances and the option of having a team standard over the player stations during matches. It really makes you feel like you’re back in the Middle Ages with knights and epic tournaments. The audience participation ability is going to be interesting. Teams outside the match will be trying to appeal to the audience in a Hunger Games sort of way to win their approval.

I think the game is perfect for us because as a medieval themed team, the possibilities for team spirit becomes endless. My team members were quite excited when they first saw the teaser for the game back in October. Right after watching it they were already theorizing about the game, wondering if it would be like Tower Defense or jousting. Then after attending kickoff they started brainstorming ideas for the robot. They discussed what type of robot it would be and possible strategies to score the most amount of points. 

Robots will be storming the castle in Stronghold.

It’s going to be great.

Ramp Riot! Goodbye Recycle Rush!

On Saturday, November 14, 2015, The RoboLancers attended Ramp Riot! It was the last Recycle Rush competition of the year and the highlight of our off season. Ramp Riot! had one the largest RoboLancers attendance rates for any FRC competition this year. Many FTC members, FRC members, teachers and mentors attended this event. While it was a goodbye to another game for the FRC members, it was an introduction for our new FTC members.

As Recycle Rush was going on, an FTC Scrimmage was also taking place at Wissahickon High School. This year’s FTC game, Res-Q, allows teams to think more creatively due to the verticality of the field. The scrimmage allowed exposure of other teams as well as the progression of their robots. “It was interesting to see the other teams’ approaches to the various challenges that this game presents… one of the teams even designed and built the same type of manipulator as us!” Connor McCole, a member of Central’s FTC Crimson team, said.

Experiencing a competition of this magnitude, new FTC member Thomas Swingley comments, “We went between the FTC and FRC areas, looking at how the FTC games went and watching the 321 FRC team during their matches. Our team, as well as others, cheered for each team and alliance.” All our members were exhilarated to watch and cheer for our team’s matches. The pompom wiggling and chants were led by Martis Ravenell and Sabrina Dormer. “Sabrina and I leading and coordinating the members in the stands gave spirit to our drive team as they faced the perils of the drivers’ station. When my fellow first year FRC member, Viwing Zheng, took over as the manipulator controller, the entire stand decided to give her a giant cheer in order to cheer her on,” says Martis Ravenell.

A lot of people expressed excitement for the end of off season, and for the start of the incoming build season. With the end of Ramp Riot, the 321 RoboLancers bid adieu to Recycle Rush. Below, are some thoughts from our senior and junior members: Jeechieu Ta, Evan Aretz, Brian Mata, Jonah Getz, Ahmed Amin, and Cordell Beatty. These are all members of the RoboLancers’ Executive Committee, and lead certain factions in the team. Our President, Caspar Nguyen, personally interviewed FRC members who experienced the 2015 FRC game Recycle Rush!

– How do you feel about Ramp Riot being the last game of Recycle Rush?

JC: I’m happy that it’s over. There was excitement that this was the final game.

EA: I’m ready for this new robot. While Recycle Rush was the best robot that I (helped (a lot)) build so far, I was juggling with mechanical and Chairman’s.

BM: Happy.

JG: Relieved. No more mechanums!

AA: No more cangrabbers.

CB: It feels great to end Ramp Riot and be done with Recycle Rush forever. I wasn’t a fan of the free for all aspect. That being said, it was an amazing year, being able to go to World’s for the first time and winning 2 blue banners.

– What are your expectations for the next game “FRC Stronghold”?

JC: I hope that it can be a game that we could be comfortable going to World’s about. Last year’s seniors were a little uncomfortable that Recycle Rush was going to their last game. Hopefully, FRC Stronghold will be a bumpers kind of game.

CK: I know that Cordell would be excited about it if it does become that way. He was a sophomore when he was on the drive team for the FRC offseason of Aerial Assist, and was a very good defensive driver for our defensive robot.

EA: I hope that it’s not going to be bad. I want it to be more high-paced. It was only high-paced when you had a really good robot. The scoring system wasn’t very fun. I want more high tension situations where I could be more nervous and anxious about the game but Recycle Rush was more of Recycle Mellow.

BM: A lot of defense. I hope it was a more technical/challenging game than what Recycle Rush was.

JG: It sounds cool. I look forward to having defense again.

CB:  I’m hoping stronghold game is the total opposite of this year’s game. I’m expecting heavy defence and some type of shooters. It’ll make for a better game to watch as a spectator.

– How was it like to be cheering in the stands?

JC: [On cheering in the stands] it wasn’t very exhilarating, but for the freshman, I’m sure that it was much more fun.

CB:  I tried to be in the stands as much as I could so I could watch and enjoy the last competition.

CK: Lots of pom-poms. So many pom-poms. I wish that there were more dancing. From us, not so much about the other teams, but it’s always cringe-worthy to see kids do the Whip/Nae Nae from the spectating view of a Philadelphian. Otherwise, it was an FRC event, as it usually is.

One of the better things being in the stands (now that I’m no longer Safety Captain, and therefore, am not as needed in the pits), helping coordinate spirit and doing match scouting, is hearing things from the drive team (when they come up to rest in between matches). I was talking with Cordell, who told me that when they were behind the driver’s station, he looked up (at where the team was), turned to Jonah, and said, “look at all of the people cheering for us.” He said it with such a big smile, and we’re a pretty big team, mind you. *laughs* I plan on getting some Drive Team cheers together for the upcoming season so our Drive Team knows just how much we truly do appreciate them.

– What was it like in the pit at Ramp Riot?

EA: Crowded. Tried my best to keep everything moving. “Aggressively coordinate.” Our team is pretty solid so I didn’t have to do anything.

BM: It was exciting. It was nice to be working as the technical lead, especially after having been working as the lead’s assistant.

JG: It was good. Being able to tinker with the robot.. *thumbs up*

CB: The Ramp Riot drive team experience was really good. All of the teams were excited that this was the last competition of the year. It wasn’t nearly as intense as during the normal season. This being our last competition we didn’t have much to work on in the pit.

– What was it like being Head Scout and really getting into the game and the competition?

AA: It gave me some experience. I feel that I will be very ready come 2016. We’ll be working further on our scouting techniques, and I will be completely revamping our scouting system.

Our team has plenty of time on our hands until 2016’s FRC game Stronghold is released. The RoboLancers have been tinkering away on a similar robot from a past game. Updates soon to come!

Worlds Competition at St. Louis, Missouri

On the evening of April 21st, the RoboLancers set out on a 15 hour bus ride to St. Louis, Missouri. As the winner of the Chairman’s Award (an award given to the team that “embodies the the purpose and goals of FIRST”) in both the city and regional competition, the RoboLancers were eligible to go to the Worlds competition.

Of course, the fee for this trip was not cheap. However, our generous sponsors, including the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, as well as the alumni of Central High School and other generous donators, have all pitched in enough money in order to pay for all the expenses.

We stayed in St. Louis, Missouri for a total of 5 days. Conveniently, we stayed at the Westin Hotel, which was only a short walk’s distance away from the competition arenas. Upon arrival at the arena (which was actually a football field), most of the seats were filled, with the exception of the seats on the upper-level. This was quite surprising, considering that only the FRC (FIRST Robotics Challenge) teams were in the stands.

Aside from the FRC teams, there were also many FLL (FIRST Lego League) teams there as well, although it was on a separate floor. The FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge) teams were kept in a completely different building due to the lack of space.

Green recycling containers in the center can be pulled over to your team’s side both during the autonomous and tele-operated phase. (Photo credits to Marie Planchard from SolidWorks

During the FRC competition, our robot underwent a significant change.   Most robots were able to grab the recycling containers in the center of       the field, which netted their team a huge bonus if they managed to place   it on top of a stack of totes (gray rectangular boxes). Without these two     recycling containers, it became much harder to outscore your opponent   unless they made a mistake or accidentally knocked over their stack.

As a result, in order to keep up with the other teams, we had to add our
own recycling can-grabbers. This was done during the competition, and it essentially is two metal rods that open up into a T shape in order to grab the backs of the recycling containers.


Although we made significant improvements to our robot, we did not manage to win in our division (Newton division).

Of course, even without the robots, there were a lot of other things to do. For example, there was the Innovation Faire, located in the Renaissance St Louis Grand Hotel. There were a lot of companies, such as NVIDIA, Boeing, PTC, and LEGO. Many colleges seeking aspiring children and teenagers were there as well, including Yale University, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and Kettering University.

Aside from that, I also managed to take a selfie with Woodie Flowers. No, not the wooden cardboard cutout version, but the actual person. Huge shout-out to Ariana Versace for managing to find Woodie Flowers amidst thousands of people, and of course, to Woodie Flowers for agreeing to take a picture with us.


The trip to St. Louis, Missouri, was an amazing experience, and one that I hope to have again. Of course, even though we didn’t win, it was an eye-opening experience. This was our second time going to the Worlds competition. But you know what they say, third times the charm.


Would you like to see more pictures? If so, please click here.


St. Louis and Worlds

The World Robotics Championship is where the best robotics teams from around the world compete against each other on the grandest stage of all.

The journey to St. Louis was tiring but exciting at the same time. To be honest, I had underestimated the bus ride. I estimated it would take from 13 to 18 hours of travelling but I didn’t think much of it. Luckily, I survived, but I came out of the bus with a sore and aching body.

I was relieved once we arrived at St. Louis. We finally had the chance to escape the cramped spaces of the bus and enjoy some breakfast. Before we went to our hotel we stopped by the City Museum. The place was bursting with creativity and excitement.  There were slides in every corner (one of them was 10 stories high), staircases to climb, smalls spaces to crawl through, and objects to hang from. The place was packed with kids of all ages. Adults were having fun too. The RoboLancers weren’t the only robotics team in the building. I saw plenty of other teams having fun before the start of the competition.

The next day was the start of the qualification matches. I’ve been to many robotics competitions in Philadelphia but they were nothing compared to the World Championships. Everything was bigger, better, and more exciting. Teams from all over the world such as Australia, Mexico, and Israel arrived to compete. The stands were filled with people rooting for their teams. The team spirit I witnessed during Worlds was unbelievable. People were chanting, yelling, and dancing around the place.

While we were at the Edward Jones Dome/America’s Center, I got to roam around for a bit with my friend. While we were travelling to the Pit area I saw a bunch of people crowding around someone. Curious, we went over to see who they were talking to.

It was Woodie Flowers.

The first time I came close to a famous person was last year during the summer. In my mind I knew that this was a rare opportunity and that I shouldn’t let this chance pass me by. People were getting his autograph and taking selfies with him. My friend was anxious to go to the pits since we were on a tight schedule but I absolutely refused to leave until I got a signature from Woodie Flowers.

And I did.


I met Woodie Flowers and got his autograph. This was something I never thought would happen in my life. I went on to brag about this to my other team members but I stopped when two of my friends met him the next day and took a selfie with him.

We later then went to the pits where we went crazy hunting for team pins, wristbands, and other cool toys. We were at Worlds and we wanted to experience everything as much as we could.

Later in the day the opening ceremony began. It was a paper airplane extravaganza. That’s the best way I can describe the opening ceremony and the rest of the competition. Never in my life have I seen so many paper airplanes being thrown in the air. They were quite impressive.

The competition continued for the next few days. Finals were around the corner and we competed with all we had. We ranked in 54th place in the end. Unfortunately, we didn’t get picked during Alliance Selection so we couldn’t compete during the Einstein Playoffs. However, we didn’t let that dampen our mood. The ending ceremony arrived with a concert and everyone enjoyed themselves during our last day in St. Louis.

Going to the World Championship was an experience I’ll never forget. I got the chance to meet people from all over the world, go to the Gateway Arch, meet Woodie Flowers, and collect team pins in the pits like a madwoman. I want to thank all of our sponsors for supporting the RoboLancers and helping us with our trip to St. Louis. This would never have happened without your support.

We went to the World Championship twice already.

I’m hoping for round 3.

Road to St. Louis

The Central High School RoboLancers — the student-run robotics program of Central High School in Philadelphia — is urgently seeking your financial support to attend the Robotics World Championship in St. Louis from April 22 to April 25. Here is a link to our gofundme campaign:

The RoboLancers champion science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in our public schools and have become a shining example of what students in a challenging urban setting can do when given the opportunity. Since its founding in 1999, the RoboLancers have grown from five students to a multi-faceted program of more than 112 students. It is now the largest extracurricular activity at Central High School, one of Philadelphia’s most academically rigorous public magnet schools.

This year, the RoboLancers were one of two teams selected from the 122 teams in the Mid-Atlantic Region to win the Chairman’s Award, the FIRST robotics organization’s highest honor. This award is given to the team that most exemplifies the spirit of the organization and in recognition of its work promoting science and technical education among high schoolers. In addition to the Chairman’s Award, the team has won four Engineering Inspiration Awards over the past three years, which further recognizes our outreach and educational activities.

The RoboLancers’ membership is drawn from Central High School’s extremely diverse population. Of the more than 2,200 students who attend the school, 30 percent are African-American, 33 percent are Asian, 9 percent are Latino, and nearly 60 percent come from families that are classified as “economically disadvantaged.” The RoboLancers mainly compete against suburban and private schools with significantly more resources, yet the team thrives despite significant financial adversity. Our outstanding performance has made us eligible for the FIRST Robotics World Championship, one of the most challenging high school robotics competitions in the nation.

Teams around the world had six weeks to design and build a 120 pound robot from scratch that competes with other team’s robots by performing a variety of tasks. The design, construction, programming and operation of the robot provide students with critical hands-on experiences they can’t get in the classroom. The opportunities afforded by the robotics competition spark student interest in engineering and help prepare them for college and careers in STEM fields.

Yet the RoboLancers are much more than a competitive robotics team. At a time when Philadelphia public schools have suffered devastating budget cuts involving the layoffs of thousands of teachers, the shuttering of dozens of schools, and drastic program and classroom cuts, including the defunding of robotics programs throughout the city, the RoboLancers have stepped up and become the lynchpin of STEM education in Philadelphia. The team mentors other robotics programs across the city, providing technical support, physical space, and tools for other teams.

The RoboLancers also host several critical robotics events, including workshops and competitions for elementary, middle, and high school students from around the city. The RoboLancers also partner with the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP Lab to host the Philadelphia Robotics Expo, an all-day event to promote engineering and science education to more than 400 children through student-run workshops, demonstrations and programs. Supporting the RoboLancers does not just benefit students at Central High School, but thousands of students across the city who participate in the RoboLancers’ outreach program.

Our annual budget of more than $30,000 has been raised exclusively through an aggressive student-run sponsorship campaign and the support of the Associated Alumni of Central High School and the Central High School Home and School Association. Yet the RoboLancers’ selection for the World Robotics Championship means the team must raise an additional $25,000-$35,000 to pay for event registration, hotel accommodations, meals, and transportation of students and equipment to and from St. Louis. And we must raise this money in less than two weeks.

Your assistance is urgently needed to ensure that this extraordinary team of high schoolers will have the chance to compete in the FIRST Robotics World Championship from April 22 to April 25. Thank you in advance for your support of STEM education in Philadelphia.