Overheard in the Innovation Lab

Overheard in the Innovation Lab
Danny Stock

Wearing peculiar hats made of aluminum foil, members of GDS’s High School robotics team ran through final checks, gathered their gear in the Innovation Lab, and prepared to load the bus for the second of the 2023 season’s competitions. Like the goofy gameday get-ups worn by GDS athletics teams to show unity, the silver psych-day hats signaled to the broader High School community that the members of team #8326—and their robot—were ready to roll out to the FIRST Robotics Chesapeake Portsmouth Competition.

Unlike athletics teams, however, robotics teams compete through alliances rather than facing off head-to-head. The twin values of "Gracious Professionalism"—embracing respect and empathy—and “Coopertition”—the notion that teams can compete while cooperating—are the foundation of the FIRST Robotics Competitions.

After finishing with a 6-6 record at the regional qualifier at Walt Whitman High School the week before, placing in the top 20 of the teams competing, the Hoppers had made use of the preparation time to update their systems. Team coach Matthew Bachiochi said of the previous competition, “The Hoppers were quick on their feet, fixing a number of problems that arose throughout the weekend, including a broken drivetrain motor, and refining the code used for autonomous driving.”

Liz Higday updates 8326's autonomous code

Liz Higday updates team 8326's autonomous code.

As team members and coaches went in and out of the lab, lead coder Liz Higday ’25 tinkered with the code for the autonomous driving portion of the competition, during which the robots snatch up traffic cones and place them on pegs. While she worked, swiveling on a stool between her computer and the robot, she talked about the season. 

Highlight from the regional qualifier? 

“The first balance was so exciting. We had never practiced it and seeing it work after working on it for so long was really exciting.” This year, teams had to “dock” their robots on a “charging station,” wheeling up onto a teeter-totter and holding their position for several seconds.

Your favorite feature of 8326’s code?

“Turtle Drive” [AKA Precision Drive). The code slows down the robot and makes it more sensitive, which makes it easier to drive and balance.”

Loading the robot arm

Loading the robot arm

Looking ahead? 

“I’m looking forward to winning more matches and hoping everything functions.”

Matthew assisted Liz with a few test runs before moving on to help coordinate the team’s departure. How did the team feel about the last competition? How do their chances look in the next? “Ultimately, an ill-timed accident kept them from being picked for the elimination tournament, but they left the competition with their heads high,” Matthew said.

Team coach Layla Coyne ’25 stopped into the lab as Matthew stepped out. 

Highlight from the regional qualifier? 

“It was really fun working with other student coaches from other teams. It gave me the opportunity to learn about other schools and get to know them.” Coaches coordinate with their counterparts on other school teams to figure out the best strategies within alliances. 

Top hope for Portsmouth?

“Hopefully not getting our [robot] arm snapped off. Also, working with new teams. We’ll keep pushing and make sure to cooperate with everyone.”

What title do we give you?

“Whatever sounds really cool, call us that,” Layla quipped.

Safety officer Shaan Desai ’24, who also helped build and fix mechanical issues on the robot, has enjoyed the return to an unrestricted competition season. His 9th- and 10th-grade seasons were marred by virtual robotics and limited competition opportunities. “I’m inspired to be on the team,” he said. 

Robot's first balance

A hope or prediction for Portsmouth?

“Hopefully, we can be in the top 8 of teams so we can select other teams to be a part of our alliance in the playoffs. If we get to choose specific robots for our teams, we can tailor to our needs. By selecting [partner] teams good at driving or balancing, we can maximize our team potential.”

Scouting Coordinator Nora Schrag ’25, who gathers and coordinates intel about potential allies, entered the lab wearing an aluminum foil top hat she constructed.

Highlight of last weekend?

“The community. It’s fun to be around so many people, who have all spent an extraordinary amount of time working on our little metal friends. Even when teams were eliminated, they were still cheering for other teams.”

Focus for Portsmouth?

I’m excited to win. 

And win they did. The team won eight of their 12 qualifying matches (8-3-1 record) against a field of nearly 30 teams. Those results landed them in a seventh-seed captaining position, allowing them to pick their alliance teammates for their first-ever tournament play. After some tough match-ups, the Hoppers were eventually knocked out after three matches, finishing in a tie for fifth place. 

Another sign of success, on top of tournament results, has been the team’s improved capacity to build and compete at a high level. “As a team, we were also able to utilize both build techniques (advanced CAD and integrating pneumatics) and strategies (effective scouting at events) that helped us to grow into a more competitive team moving forward,” Matthew said.

Congratulations to the 2022-23 robotics team, who really distinguished themselves this year—and not just with goofy hats.

Staff Coach Matthew Bachiochi (HS Computer Science), Elvin Peprah (Innovation & Computer Science Department Chair), and code coach Andrew Heine (HS Computer Science) extend special shoutouts to…

Team coaches: Joseph Stocker ’24, Alex Swisher ’23, and Layla Coyne ’25 (who also captained the tournament alliance)

Drive Team: Oliver Thomas ’24 and Jake Jameson ’24

Human Players: Mia Chevere ’23 and Ashwin Colby ’25 (who also refined the robot's code throughout the weekend)

Lead Technician: Sawyer Thompson ’25

Safety Officer: Shaan Desai ’24

Scouting Coordinator: Nora Schrag ’25

…And thank the many other students who helped with the robot, field pieces, and general management of the team—we are grateful for your participation this season!


Overheard in the Innovation Lab
  • High School
  • Innovate and Create
  • STEM