We Have Updated Our Team’s History

In 2004 a group of students came together with some very motivated parents to start FRC team 1389. The original name for our team was Popender and the team competed at the 2004 Chesapeake Regional. We had a lot of help from teams 888 the Glenelg Robotiators and team 1111 the Power Hawks who were able to provide parts and guidance on our rookie year robot. The team had a very independent spirit in its rookie year, here is a quote from one the team’s founding members:

My team, 1389, had only 2 adults helping us out, neither of whom were engineers. They did help us very much when needed, but we pretty much took care of things on our own. There is not part of the robot that at least 1 or 2 people don’t COMPLETELY understand, and we figured everything out based on resources on the FIRST website, previous knowledge, trial and error, etc. We were able to learn so much because it is what we had to do in order to build the robot. If adults want to help the team, then teach members off season, so you can test their knowledge during the season. Otherwise, how are they really making any progress?

After our rookie year the team changed its name to team Robit and started to get a bit more serious about making a good robot. We attended a build season scrimmage with 18 other teams and ran into some issue that the team was able to fix prior to competition. This gave us the leg up we needed to perform well at the 2005 Chesapeake Regional. So well in fact that we went on to our first and only World Championships. We also attended our first off season event, Capital Clash which helped our team learn more in the off season and gave us our first taste of eliminations.

The hard work from the previous two seasons paid off in 2006 when the team was selected for the 3rd alliance and made it all the way to the semifinals. This success continued to motivate the team through the off season where they competed in not one but two off season events.

2007 was a tough year for the team. It had lost some of the founding members and some key parents who were doing a lot of the heavy administrative lifting for the team. The team competed at the 2007 Chesapeake Regional, but struggled to put single digits up on the board for their alliance.

In 2008 the team started to get back some of it mojo and attended a build season play day with other teams from the national capital region. However, the team struggled with low team attendance, minimal mentor participation and did not get much traction on or off the field for the next few seasons. One bright spot was that team decided to change its name to the Body Electric in honor of the Walt Whitman Poem by the same name.

In 2010 the team attended the USA Science and Engineering Festival at the National Mall in Washington DC. Also in 2010, as luck would have it the team was a recipient of one of the $5,000 NASA sustaining grants. This funding created some momentum that carried the team into the 2011 season, when the team earned its first winning record and attended its first off season event in over 5 years.

The momentum continued into 2012 when the team earned its way to the semifinals as a first pick at the Greater DC Regional. Walt Whitman also attended two regional events for the first time in the team’s history. With the success came more students and some growing pains. Historically, the team made decisions by committee. But with over 25 kids on the team getting consensus became harder. This resulted in team leadership fractures and an increase in stress for students, mentors and parents. The team’s new teacher Mr. Chen, who was new to FIRST and FRC recognized the need for more structure and started to implement some organization for the 2013 season.

The team performed well in 2013, making into eliminations at its second regional as a first pick, and earned a finalist award. This year over year success led to even more growth and more change for the team. The team pushed through the season, but vowed to examine itself and make the changes necessary to create a great learning environment for the students that would allow the team to continue to succeed.

In 2014 the team was now up to 3 technical mentors, 4 non-technical mentors, 1 teacher and 35 students. This was the largest the team had ever been. The team had also instituted some processes to help with decision making, communication and organization. The team was confident it would have a great season with all of the resources it now had at its disposal. The team did trade studies, used CAD and worked with a supplier to fabricate the drive train all, for the first time in the team’s history. The team’s expectations were high, however delays with fabrication and taking on more than the team could accomplish resulted in a robot that had to be rebuilt between our two regional events. What some saw as a bad season, other saw as one of the best learning experiences a team could have. The Walt Whitman students tore through all of the failures and learned more about design, fabrication, scouting and working within our means than they had in all of their previous season combined.

In 2015 the team was ready to break out from the past that had helped it get to this season and start to be the team that they always knew they could be. They started the season off with a game analysis that was spot on and allowed the team to design the best robot the team had ever designed. Not only did the team make it into eliminations at every one of the 5 tournaments it attended. It was an alliance captain at 2 of the 5, it was in the finals at 2 of the 5 and it won 1 of the 5. This was the best season the team had ever had and it has created more momentum than the team has ever had going into a season.

In preparation for 2016 FRC season the team has taken the success from 2015 and doubled down. The team is working harder in the off season to improve ourselves, our school and our community than we have ever done before. The team is growing faster and more capable and will continue to learn from our failures so that each year we break our own records and maybe in a few years we start breaking world records.

We can’t wait to see what this season has in store for us…


Take a look at details and images from previous season

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The page is a little light since we just started tracking our history in 2015.  Please help us fill it out by sending us info on our robots, teams members and pictures from previous years to admin@team1389.com

What are our Almuni Up To

The Walt Whitman Robotics Club has been around since 2004 and has had over 150 people graduate from the program.  Here is the map of where all of those alumni have ended up.

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Here are all of the places our alumni work




The page is a little light since we just started this in 2015.  Please help us fill it out by sending us info on our graduates and pictures from previous year to admin@team1389.com

Game Design

Prior to kickoff this year the Whitman folks have started looking back at all of the past FIRST and VEX games to see what we can learn from the past.  Here are all of the games we studied.

1992 Maize Craze
1993 Rug Rage
1994 Tower Power
1995 Ramp ‘n Roll
1996 Hexagon Havoc
1997 Toroid Terror
1998 Ladder Logic
1999 Double Trouble
2000 Co-Opertition FIRST First Contact
2001 Diabolical Dynamics Volcanic Panic
2002 Zone Zeal Arctic Impact
2003 Stack Attack City Sights
2004 Raising the Bar Mission Mars
2005 Triple Play No Limits
2006 Aim High Half-Pipe Hustle Ocean Odyssey
2007 Rack ‘n Roll Hangin’-A-Round Nano Quest
2008 FIRST Overdrive Quad Quandary Power Puzzle Bridge Battle
2009 Lunacy Face Off Climate Connections Elevation
2010 Breakaway Hot Shot! Smart Move Clean Sweep
2011 Logomotion Get Over It! Body Forward Round Up
2012 Rebound Rumble Bowled Over! Food Factor Gateway
2013 Ultimate Ascent Ring It Up! Senior Solutions Sack Attack
2014 Aerial Assist Block Party! Nature’s Fury Toss Up Add It Up
2015 Recycle Rush Cascade Effect World Class – Learning Unleashed Skyrise Highrise
2016 Stronghold FIRST RES-Q Trash Trek Nothing But Net Bank Shot


Here are some additional resources we looked at for game design

These are our findings when we look across all of the games

  • Games avoid
    • Getting your robot to far off the ground
    • Projectiles that are pointy or hard
    • Games with choke strategies or that have the ability to be dominated by a lone team
    • High speed robots
    • Metal to metal contact
    • Game play that exceeds actions greater than 10ft from the ground
  • Games encourage
    • Tasks that need more than one robot to accomplish
    • Humans and robots to work together
    • High precision tasks (+ or – 3″)
    • Use of computer vision
    • Phases of game play
    • Games that allow 3 capability levels of robots to be useful at most completions
    • Use of automation
    • Robot configurations that are able to fit through doors and into cars
    • The ability of teams to use starvation as a tactic

We also made a new history of FRC video

Alumna’s message to students thinking about joining robotics

2013-03-28 10-22-01Robotics was my favorite place at Whitman. It was the most enjoyable “work” I’ve ever done, a retreat from stress, a place to hang out with friends, and a powerful teacher. All these are and were connected, so I’ll start with the beginning. Most people, including myself, come into robotics knowing very few relevant skills, and with maybe one or two friends there. So the first things we did were to play some team building games, and go through how to safely operate all the machinery.

Once the basics are done, robotics really starts. Robotics is wonderful in that it’s very much up to the students what to do, and every individual has a ton of options. All that’s given to you is the rules, and how to score points in the year’s game. So you decide, with your teammates, what your strategy is; offense, defense, team player, solo, some mix? Then you have to decide on just how you’re going to accomplish that strategy, what traits do you need to perform well? Maneuverability? Speed? Durability? How are you going to accomplish that, swerve drive, tank drive, 6 wheels, 4 wheels? What kind of wheels, skid wheels, mechanum, omni?

Everything is left up to the team. And the people with more experience will have more to say, but everyone can put up their ideas. And at first, no single option is decided. Which is wonderful! What happens is the various implementations of the strategy are researched, prototyped, and tested. Each implement tends to have its own sub-leader who’s passionate about that project, and is there consistently. My first year I helped lead a sub-project simply because I was there often enough, and really wanted to see it through. It was great to see it done, even when it wasn’t used later, just because I knew that this was my sub-teams little creation. One of the epic, and extremely real-world, parts of robotics is how you really get out what you put in. And if you can’t be there consistently, you still join up on whichever project you like the most, and help out when you can. The choices are really up to you, robotics gives you a freedom you really don’t find until college, and it’s brilliant and enjoyable. The “work” is so fun because it’s what you choose to do.

But the work isn’t just your work, it’s your team’s work. Each subteam member helped build or plan or wire or program the mechanism, and you all did it together. You can’t have a working mechanism with no power, or with nothing to tell the motors or pneumatics when to run, code. So you learn to accommodate the other member’s needs on the system. More than that, you learn to work together. You start becoming a team, sharing laughs at your derpy failures, and being proud of your shared work.

You also form bonds outside your subteam, robotics has dinner! Oftentimes, work goes on rather late into the evening. But that’s also a great way of team building, because you’re all in the same situation. We had one day where all the seniors blitzkrieged their math homework together. We often talked about our aspirations during *between* classes, and it’s quite brilliant to learn how everyone is getting their “work” done. So by the time the tournaments start rolling around, you’ve definitely found your niche, with probably a few closer friends, and the rest of the team being pretty awesome, but in the background.

The tournaments are awesome. First, if you’re going to a non-DC tournament, you essentially get the college life. You’re going out with your friends to get food, and sleeping (or staying up late watching movies) together. The actual rounds are a mess of high-speed stress, exhaustion, elation, and general passion. Team cheers happen, or sometimes don’t, but the entire team is hanging by the same high-tension thread while they watch the robot go. The frustrations can come out, but it’s also a period where the entire team shares the same joys and pains. And when it’s over, it’s celebration time; a few more movies, and some food, and then the return to a life where you wish the lab was open more.

When it’s through, you’ll be astounded at what you’ve learned. It really is amazing how what you see around you changes. I can name half the parts on the bus, and how it was put together. But what’s better are the lessons in what you can do. You really learn what you can do; you went through a difficult project from the very basics, and have learned enough to embark on your own projects. I’ve fundraised for my own little projects, and have the confidence to do them. No longer do I say, “oh that’d be cool,” and then just move on. I make it. Because I know I can, and because I want to. Also because there’s something intrinsically awesome about creating things. It’s not like I wasn’t self-confident before, but now I’ve got much more of a “let’s do it, because it’ll be awesome!” attitude.

This has obviously had an impact on my day to day life, but it’s probably most evident in the start of my college life. The college I’m going to started their engineering society when I was a freshmen, and it didn’t have the backing of the relatively small engineering department. I joined, and immediately became part of the board. You don’t realize how much you know till you see others who don’t really know: a fair number of the board were individual hobbyists. They didn’t know how to go about large scale, team oriented projects. So I helped forge the new society into a more professional and large scale organization, because I knew how to go about all the frustrating necessities for large projects, such as fundraising and coordination. I helped teach the various years, freshmen to senior, some of the basic skills I learned in robotics, and I organized my own projects which the society pursued together. I think what let me do all that was the organization, brute-determination, and self-confidence I learned from robotics.

So, if you’re thinking about joining, GO FOR IT! I literally can’t encourage you enough, I love seeing new people join! Join for the friends, for the skills, for the overall lessons, for the late nights and great dinners! Join for the experience, just give it a try. If you need some more practical incentives, 9 of 12 of my year’s seniors went to Ivy+ colleges. I can, and have, talked with professional engineers and can carry an in-depth conversation for a while. I’ve got enough relevant job-skills that I’m teaching some Grad Students how to go about their engineering projects, and teaching various entrepreneurs at the local tech start up how to CAD or other skills. But frankly, I think back on robotics not for these, but for the new world-view where I see all that society has built around me, and mostly for the amazing times I had; with the friends I continue to spend time with.

Good luck, and rock it!


Even Mata

Walt Whitman 2014 grad



Justin Timberlake, Will.i.am, WIllow Smith and others Celebrating FIRST and Science

Will.i.am, Justin Timberlake, Willow Smith pair up with FIRST founder Dean Kamen for “i.am.FIRST — Science is Rock and Roll,” a groundbreaking, one-hour special promoting education, science and technology. The first of its kind, the special takes an inside, up close look at the 20th Annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Championship, a worldwide science and robotics K-12 competition.

Justin Timberlake’s home page

Media Market Journal article

ABC and FIRST‘s Official Press Release

“i.am.FIRST — Science is Rock and Roll” airs on 14th August (7:00- 8:00 p.m., ET) on The ABC Television Network.