Whitman competes in first robotics challenge of the year


Photo by Hirari Sato.

By Jack Gonzalez

The Body Electric, Whitman’s robotics team, placed 19th out of 30 teams in their first competition of the year—The FIRST Tech Challenge—Dec. 9. in an all-day event held in the main gym, schools competed against each other in a variety of challenges, including hoisting their robot up a pole and placing balls onto a perch and then into a goal.

Despite the team’s strong start, communication errors and a malfunction led to a lackluster finish.

“The drivetrain worked really well, so we were able to drive pretty effectively,” captain Raffi Metz said. “The climbing system also worked well, but we needed to do a better stress analysis on our 3D printed parts, because we had all of our weight resting on one small 3D printed part which didn’t always hold up.”

The FTC competition is mostly geared toward first-year members on the team. This year, to accommodate the large number of newcomers, the team split into Junior Varsity and Varsity. Each completed their own challenges, with Varsity guiding JV members. While the building process was headed by seniors, 15 underclassmen on the JV team made up the official participating team for FTC.

“Since this is our first year having a JV team that’s basically all new members, we decided to go for a simpler robot,” Metz said. “Since there are so many points allowed for climbing, we’ve focused on making a robot that can climb really well, with goal scoring as a secondary goal.”

Programmed with code written by team members, the robot’s design focused on two simple mechanisms. An elevator helps the robot climb the pole, and a system of four wheels called the drivetrain helps steer the robot precisely to get the balls into the goals.

“We’re splitting our code up so it doesn’t get messed up—if you have all of your code in one place that’s what usually happens,” sophomore Abhaytrad Jha said. “We like to keep it ‘modular’ which mean keeping it separate so everyone has their own ‘bubble’ where they work.”

Even though programming can be done individually, sophomore Vincent Le says that team atmosphere at practices helps. He finds in-person communication with his team members easier than being on a call at home, which he feels is too distant and artificial.

The team’s next competition will be held Jan. 19 at Bullis. The team is planning on making a whole new robot to face the challenges and looks forward to having student support from Whitman, Metz said.

“People think robots are cool,” Metz said. “If you come you get to interact with and learn more about robots, so for people that are interested in robots it’s a really cool experience.”

This story was updated Jan. 21 at 12:43 p.m. to correct the following inaccuracies. The story previously states the next competition would be Jan. 19 in the main gym, however it was held at Bullis School. Additionally, the story misidentified the competition as “The First Technology Challenge.” The competition is called “The FIRST Tech Challenge.”