Inside the Schools: Pioneer’s Pihi Samurai robotics gears up for FIRST Robotics Worlds


The Pioneer High School robotics team has a history of false starts. But the current crew, Pihi Samurai robotics, has not only kept on motoring along, but has found a gear that landed them in the FIRST Robotics World Competition April 25-28 at Cobo Center.

FIRST Robotics Competition combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Teams of 10 students or more are challenged to design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program a robot to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors. It’s as close to “real world” engineering as a student can get and is considered a varsity sport by the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Pioneer started a team (1015) in the early 2000s but that team stalled after few years. In 2007, the school revved up team 1076 only to see that crew run out of gas due to a lack of interest and support.

In 2014, a group of six students started the team back up and for some reason this incarnation took off out of the gate. By 2015 the team had 35 members and has grown ever since to not only survive but thrive.

“For us to qualify for worlds is a huge honor and a lot of work,” said senior Nels A. Erickson, one of the team’s student leaders and co-captain. “We have less than two weeks to take a pretty average robot and turn it into a machine that can compete with the best 400 teams in the world. We have a lot of long nights ahead of us but I think that this is exactly what we need to get ourselves refocused.”

Team 1076 has never been to Worlds, and this will be the first time Pioneer has reached this level in over a decade.

This year’s robot was designed around the FIRST Power Up Challenge. In accordance with FIRST regulations, the team had six weeks to stratagize, design, prototype, build, wire and program their robot.

“Qualifying for worlds means one of two things,” says Erickson. “First, you must either win a regional championship or a district championship like the Michigan State Championship. Second, you can qualify through the wildcard lottery – for every year that a team exists consecutively and does not qualify for Worlds, they gain one entry into the lottery.”

Erickson says the biggest goal for the Pioneer team is to “make the most of the experience.”

“By surrounding ourselves with some of the most successful teams in the world, we hope to network and gain skills that will allow us to make going to worlds a more common occurrence both for Pioneer and for the other AAPS teams,” he says. “To get ready we have some major redesign work to do, and some big changes to make. We have the potential to do something great with our robot, but I think that it will ultimately depend on how well we can pull together as a team.”

In addition, the conference and college resources available to teams at worlds will allow team members to develop better skills in areas such as scouting, design, build, and team organization as well as giving underclassmen college resources through the partnerships that FIRST has with many prestigious universities both domestically and abroad.

Because the team was awarded its position in Worlds based on a wildcard slot, Pihi Samurai robotics never actually qualified in a competition, however they competed at Waterford Mott HS from March 8-10 and Belleville HS from March 22-24.

“At our districts we didn’t do super well, however our expectations going in were to do much better than we did,” Erickson said. “At both competitions there we 39 other teams from across the state. Many of our issues at our district competitions were caused by technical issues that stemmed from not being able to test.”

For more on the Worlds Competition, including a complete schedule, log onto:

For more on team 1076, log onto:






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