After a State Division finals appearance last year, the Atoms Family, out of Plymouth Christian Academy came into the year with high hopes of continuing its success.

But, FIRST Robotics is different from traditional sports. The game changes. Every year. Completely. I mean completely.

The rules change on the robot dimensions, allowed components and motors. The field changes; drastically. This year’s field looked nothing like last year’s field and nothing like the year before. The objective changes. Last year was 12” plastic gears and whiffle balls being placed or shot in various locations throughout the field and then climbing a rope and the end of the game. This year was 13” milk crates being placed on 10-foot wide teeter-totters in various locations throughout the field at various heights and the climbing a 7 foot high, 13” wide bar at the end of the game. About the only thing that doesn’t change is the match length (2.5 minutes) and the maximum weight of the robot (120 pounds without a battery/bumpers).

Last year, the team decided, like most others, to only worry about the gears and not shoot balls. While this made for a simple and reliable robot that earned the team 2 semi-finals and 1 finals appearance, it was a weakness when they competed against the best of the best in the world championships and the team finished 3-7 and in the 55th position and the end of worlds. This year, the team would not make such a compromise.

This year’s robot could do it all and did it all. They could place the power cubes (names for the milk crates) on any of the 3 teeter-totters, could pick them up from anywhere on the field, could climb from the middle, right and left side of the 13-inch climbing bar and could score every possible way.

Led by a finals appearance, then a victory and then another finals appearance, the team entered the state championships tied in 14th place out of 508 teams.

FIRST does not have any divisions for its highest level of competition, FRC. That means team 4405 plays against the likes of team from all over the world as well as from mega-public schools in the robotics-rich Michigan district like Plymouth-Canton-Salem, Livonia, South Lyon, Novi, Northville, Farmington-Hills, Westland and many others. Yet, PCA finished the divisional round ahead of ALL the above listed teams including the 2017 World Champion Lightning Robotics out of Plymouth-Canton-Salem.

After a disappointing state championship appearance, the Atoms Family regrouped and prepared themselves for their 4th consecutive world championship appearance. This year the World Championships were played in Houston, Texas and right here in Detroit at Cobo Hall. With an estimated 40,000 competitors and spectators, the Atoms Family again found itself on the world stage; but this time they were ready.

Led by an senior lead drive team of Hadlee Chubb, Zachary Racho, Chiren Moore and Taylor Maxwell, the Atoms Family entered the championships with high hopes.

The first 15 seconds of each match is autonomous. Yes, autonomous like the cars buzzing around Detroit and California right now without drivers. The software team of Hadlee Chubb, Elise Miera, Sarah Fernandes, Matthew Powers and Allie Kwang were tasked with placing a 13-inch cube on 1 of two teeter-totters in 15 seconds. Oh, I forgot to mention, those teeter totters are either 8 or 27 feet away and either 2 feet or 6 feet off the ground. I also forgot to mention, the teams do not know which side of the teeter totter to place it on until the match starts and by that time, the students cannot communicate with the robot in autonomous mode…the robot has to figure it out. Not only did the software team deliver a robot that could place a cube on either teeter-totter in autonomous mode, they delivered a robot that successfully placed a cube on the correct teeter-totter EVERY SINGLE TIME at the World Championships. Beyond that, their robot was able to do fast. I mean really fast. In autonomous, the faster you place the cube, the more points you get. Their robot traveled 27 feet, all the while curving at near full speed to track the teeter-totter rising 6 feet and placing the cube in highest teeter-totter in less than 4 seconds. But when it was done with first cube, it turned around drove a few more feet, found another cube, grabbed it, turned back around, rose up 7 feet (just in case the teeter-totter had titled away from it) and placed it next to its autonomously placed brother, providing the team a huge advantage to start each match.

Additionally, this 120-pound powerhouse was the most complex robot the team has ever successfully built. Led by Taylor Maxwell, Chiren Moore, Chloe Orlandi, BJ Blume, Luke Wash, Claire Kurtycz, Emily Sciatto and Evan Wright, this robot featured 7 different motors, 3 different encoders to measure rotation distance, 7 motor controllers, a double solenoid, a gyrometer, an accelerometer, an Arduino embedded computer and pneumatic arm, and a 2 stage powered rising arm that could lift cubes and place them precisely over 9 feet in the air, yet still strong enough to lift the entire robot, battery and bumpers weighing in at well over 150 pounds, 12 inches in about 1 second by grabbing on a 13 inch wide bar 7 feet off the ground.

But this team was more than just software and hardware. Led by a strong business and media team of Zachary Racho, Keith Brown, Kyle Sedgewick, Stephen Miera and Caleb DeVries, the team was able to fundraise, outreach and promote their team. The team maintained the team website, sponsor relations and team events. Additionally, the team made a reveal video for the robot as well as video recap of the District Championship they earned this year.

With all of this, Team 4405 excelled at the World Championships. They ended the qualification matches with an 8-2 record and were an alliance captain. There are 7,331 registered FRC teams in the World. Of those there are 508 teams in Michigan alone. Of those 508 teams, 89 qualified for Worlds based on record and there are 400 total teams at World’s in Detroit. Of those 400 teams, 192 team advance to eliminations. Of those 192 teams, only 144 actually play in the elimination matches (the remaining are backup robots). Of those 144 teams, there are only 48 alliance captains. To make World’s is a great accomplishment. To make it to the elimination rounds is another huge accomplishment. But to be alliance captain at world’s truly puts the team in rarified air. The fact that the team was able to advance all the way to their quarterfinals as alliance captains is an amazing accomplishment and this accomplishment, along with the entire season is one the team will not soon forget.

Keith Boruta
PCA Atoms Family Coach