Interview with the PPHS Robotics Coach

Students working on robotics


PPHS Robotics: Interview with Coach Mundell 

Although PPHS Downtown has many extracurriculars and activities for students, there is something really special about our SuPURDUEper Robotics Team. Over the last three years, the team has continued to grow and improve, pulling late nights and early mornings to make sure their robot was ready for competition. Unfortunately, their season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, because the team’s oldest members are juniors, they will all be back for one final season as a team in the 2020-2021 school year. We got the chance to interview Coach Mundell, the PPHS Downtown Robotics Coach about their plans for the upcoming year. 


How have school closures impacted your season?

The season has been suspended. For us specifically, that was one more district event as well as the district championship (state championship).  We had done well enough at our first event to almost guarantee qualifying for state. When the season ended we had finished one event as runner up and were the top robot in the state by offensive ratings. We were also looking likely to qualify for the world competition again, which has now been canceled.


What were the challenges, other than the obvious school closures, that the team overcame this year?

Our season is built on overcoming challenges, one after another. This year, our biggest challenges involved shooting a ball into an 8-foot high goal and then lifting our 125lb robot off the ground to end the match. These were overcome through brainstorming, testing, calculating, and iterating multiple designs. Once we found something that worked, we found ways to improve it. We added sensors and programming to shoot the balls more quickly and at a consistent velocity, and we added vision tracking so that the robot would automatically aim at the target and adjust the velocity based on the distance to the goal. When lifting ourselves, we calculated the optimal gearing to lift ourselves as quickly as possible as well as redesigning our hooks to maximize success. We even were capable of lifting a second robot for bonus points, though we never did this in competition.


What was your proudest moment as a coach?

It's hard to pinpoint one moment. One of my favorite moments was going into our first competition, we knew it was likely that we were over the weight limit. It turned out that we were 3 pounds over, which was a lot. We had anticipated this, and we had a list of ways we knew we could cut weight, so as a team we just started removing and lightening things. 

It was great to see the whole team dive in, drilling holes, removing and swapping out parts. Our students don't panic anymore, we just start working the problem. This kind of problem-solving happens in all facets of the team, programming, designing, driving, business, and pit crew. I was also proud of how we responded to losing in the finals when our teammates had mechanical failures.


How will robotics prepare our students for success in college or careers?

Robotics helps students be ready for anything and to adapt to adverse conditions. It teaches them to solve problems in systematic ways, and to base decisions on real data and testing. Our students understand that most things come at a cost, and often the best decision is unclear. It prepares them for the natural failures that inevitably lie along the path to success. It also forces them to build collaboration, communication, and innovation skills.


What is the team looking forward to next year?

Mostly competing! We really thought we had a good shot at the state championship this year. There will eventually be more competitions scheduled for this year’s game, so Darkside (our robot) is not done. Aside from finishing this season, we hope to explore a more advanced drivetrain option called "swerve drive," which would allow us to make our future robots more agile and with better control options. It’s a big challenge, though, so we will experiment in the offseason. Also, next year will be our first senior class, so our team will try to capitalize on our experience while recruiting and training the next generation of suPURDUEper Robotics members.


What is your coaching philosophy?

Robotics has so many facets, that I have to have a few philosophies. In regards to robot design, our philosophy is to not do everything, but rather to do a few things at a very high level. It's all about game analysis (especially because the game changes every year). 

In regards to working with students, my philosophy is based on the notion that robotics is the only "sport" where everyone can go pro. With that in mind, we have to balance student learning opportunities with being competitive on the field. This is done primarily by our mentors working side-by-side with our students. We have some absolutely amazing college mentors from IUPUI who help us. I couldn't do this without them. Mentoring can look very different based on the students' abilities. Sometimes we show a skill, other times we guide, and sometimes our students just need us to review their designs and provide feedback. Regardless of level, we always want students to push the boundary of their current ability. 


What are the team's goals for the upcoming year? 

1. Build a swerve drive in the offseason. 

2. Repeat our history of success & pick up where we left off playing the current game, and hopefully finding a few ways to improve our robot before competition resumes

3. Capitalize on our experience to built a state-champion-level robot.

4. Recruit and train the next generation.


PPHS is excited to see what new challenges suPURDUEper Robotics faces this upcoming season! Remember to follow us on social media to see updates on ALL of our extracurriculars, sports, and, of course, Robotics! 


Published on 6/9/2020