FTC Robotics

A Spotlight On Parker’s Most Zealous Teams


Photo credit: Warner Vance

FTC 3507 Robotheosis Members give thumbs up with their robot prototype from last year that was hastily modified for distance sensor testing.

Every year in September, students deliver elevator pitches from behind drab tables in the courtyard, hoping that other students will see something exciting in their club and sign up. On top of one of these tables sits a boxy machine, designed and programmed by members of one of Parker’s many clubs. Behind this table stand passionate representatives of two of Parker’s successful FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics teams: Robotheosis and Frank’s Garage.

Parker’s robotics program has been around for 20 years. The seven robotics teams have a combined total of 48 awards from the official international youth robotics organizations, “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” and “Marine Advanced Technology Education.”


Parker fields two types of robotics teams, the FTC teams and a Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) team. ROV is underwater robotics, while FTC is on land. The ROV team has no size limit, but the FTC team has to be split into multiple groups as there is a size limit to teams.

Even though Parker has many niche activities and clubs to join, robotics remains a unique space with unique opportunities to build things. The team atmosphere also plays a role in the distinctive- ness of robotics.

“It’s unlike any other experience I’ve had,” FTC Captain Warner Vance said. “I joined because I was interested in engineering, but I stayed because of the environment.”

Robotics offers students a chance to develop skills necessary for the real world. “I’m more organized in my everyday life than I would have been if I’d never done robotics,” Vance said.

Robotics also teaches teamwork. “We have to cooperate in a very similar way that a sports team would,” Head of Robotics Programming junior Grant Koh said.

“It really comes down to every person doing their part on the team. Everybody has to do their job. You all have to work together, and I think that’s really important,” sophomore Lincoln Hamid said, echoing Koh’s sentiment.

“They also use the phrase ‘cooperation,’’ Upper School Science teacher and Robotics head George Austin said. “There’s cooperation because you just feel good when you’re working with other people. But there is a competition atmosphere, which just gets you energized and psyched about doing something. So there’s all sorts of skills you can develop.”

“Their model is called ‘gracious professionalism,’” Austin said. “It absolutely matches the Parker model of ‘everything to help, nothing to hinder,’ and so, you want not only to do well, but you want every other team to do well.”

So with all these benefits, why doesn’t everybody just sign up for robotics?

Koh believes robotics is more of an acquired taste. “I’m not sure there are a lot of people who want to go and watch these small robots rolling around, doing these tasks that you could obviously do yourself as a person,” Koh said. “It’s obviously not everyone’s piece of cake, but that’s okay.”

Parker celebrates the robotics team through the annual or biannual robotics Morning Exercise featuring an introduction to the team and a demonstration involving real robots. The Robotics MX establishes the program and its members as passionate and driven. “People are at least semi-attentive during the robotics MX, and that’s kind of all we can ask for,” Koh said.

This MX not only serves the purpose of educating students about robotics but also encouraging them to join, something team members say they welcome.

“I would encourage everyone to just pop in for a minute,” Vance said. “There’s definitely a place for everyone. If you have a specific skill, you could be really helpful. Or even if you don’t think you’re good at anything. We need the people who are good at engineering or programming, but we also need the people who are good at writing or graphic design.”

“It’s good fun,” said Koh. “Just show up, give it a try, and maybe you’ll like it. If that’s the case, good. You found a cool thing to spend time on, and it’s a fun way to kind of challenge yourself.”