The underdog Iron Panthers bounded beyond the competition as students from Burlingame High School won the team title at the global robotics competition, upsetting last year’s champion.

The team comprised of dozens of Burlingame High School students celebrated the victory at an event last weekend with nearly 15,000 fellow engineering and technology enthusiasts in Houston.

In an alliance with other California teams, the Iron Panthers earned the title at the FIRST Robotics Competition, where team members outperformed the reigning champions from Bellarmine Prep. The Iron Panthers were not the only local representatives in the championships, as the Boba Bots from Mills High School placed 31st out of 67 teams.

Senior Chris Sung celebrated the win as a testament to the dedication and collaboration among Iron Panthers teammates.

“It just feels really good to be in a position where we can see our robot reach that level of accomplishment,” he said.

Team co-captain Katherine Mohr shared a similar sentiment.

“This has really just been an incredible moment for our team,” said Mohr, who noted much of the team is comprised of seniors who are departing at the pinnacle of their performance.

As part of the competition, teams needed to design a remote control robot capable of picking up balls which were shot into a goal, then the robot moved a disc to cover the goal.

Teammates needed to drive and navigate the robot, as well as tune and repair technical issues. As part of the process, teammates honed their skills in programming, wiring, design and a variety of other engineering techniques.

Beyond individual capabilities required to build and operate the robot, co-captain Darrion Chen said communication and job sharing with other teammates was essential to reach peak performance.

“You can’t just build one system and not accommodate for other teams,” said Chen.

Since no one was capable of working in isolation, Chen said the collective effort needed to succeed makes the victory much more gratifying. But the countless hours sunk into the design in advance of the competition were made easier by the enthusiasm shared among teammates, he said.

“What’s great about our team culture is that everyone really wants to contribute,” he said. “It’s great to see all types of people volunteering on all different types of tasks.”

Getting everyone to work together is not without its challenges though, noted robot driver Cherilyn Yu, who said one of the more difficult elements of competition is collectively navigating a playing field occupied by so many other robots.

She said the rapid pace of competition at the championship can be taxing as well, since only 10 minutes is granted between matches, troubleshooting issues in a limited window requires maximum efficiency.

Overcoming those hurdles make the ultimate reward even more gratifying, said Mohr.

“We have seen all the effort we are putting into this turn into something great,” she said.

The victory is not the end of the road for the Iron Panthers though, as teammates are taking a victory lap with hopes of spreading awareness about the joy of science, technology, engineering and math with younger students.

As part of that effort, she said some teammates are looking to inspire young students by granting them some exposure to robotics. The team will also be at the Dream Machines event in Half Moon Bay this weekend showing off its robot.

For her part, Mohr said she is optimistic the team’s success will give greater exposure to the benefits of teamwork and innovative design.

“It’s not just about winning the competition, it’s also about being able to teach the younger generation about engineering and robotics so they have this great education,” she said.

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