Team Spyder and FIRST Robotics

We have had the absolute pleasure of working with one of our local FIRST Robotics teams, Team Spyder. When we first contacted Team Spyder last year, they were quick to bring their robot out to do a demonstration for us – we were amazed by the knowledge and ability of these students!

In April, we went to see Team Spyder compete at the San Diego Regionals, where they won several awards and placed 6 out of 58. Pretty impressive!

We got in touch with Philip Thomas (Team President) and Kent Roberts (Mechanical Lead and Drive Team Coach) to give us a behind the scenes look into Team Spyder and the FIRST Robotics program.


CAD rendering of Team Spyder’s robot.

PTG: Philip, tell us a little bit about the team.

Philip: Team Spyder is the Poway High School Robotics Team. The team started as an engineering club, but in time developed into a robotics club with participation in the First Robotics Competition. The team’s first year in FRC was in 2004, with only seven members. That year, Team Spyder won the highest rookie seed award, and developed a reputation for learning and success.

Over the years, Team Spyder has grown to be one of the largest clubs at Poway High with 63 current members. Our vision is to inspire engineering throughout the community, and our mission is to create a culture of engineering inspiration throughout the community. Team Spyder works towards its mission and vision through demonstrations, attending city council meetings, and hosting and assisting multiple STEM competitions, fairs, and events throughout San Diego.

Team Spyder is a club that not only teaches students about the principles of engineering, but also cultivates a passion for leadership, dedication, and success. Team Spyder is about inspiring students to tackle the challenges of the future, and encouraging them to make a difference within the STEM fields. However, Team Spyder not only encompasses its student members. The team is also composed of the many adult mentors and volunteers who give their time and knowledge for the team, and the many companies, corporations, and foundations that sponsor and donate to the team. Without their help, Team Spyder would not be the success it is today.

PTG: How many members are on Team Spyder and what is your role within the team? How long have you been on the team for?

Philip: Currently there are 63 members on Team Spyder. The team is comprised of two major parts: Varsity and Junior Varsity. Varsity students have been on the team multiple years and work primarily on FRC. Junior Varsity students are typically first-time members and are taught the basics of engineering design through the VEX platform, and in the spring many of them are brought up to assist the Varsity team.

As the president of Team Spyder. My job is to ensure that the team functions smoothly and that the team pursues the goals laid out in our business plan. I have been on the team for four years, and during this time I have been the treasurer for three years and lead programmer for two. As lead programmer this year, I led a small team to program the robot in C++. We developed the code for both autonomous and manual control of the robot, and worked closely with the mechanical and electrical team to ensure we were synchronized with our thoughts.


PTG: Team Spyder recently participated in the First Robotics Competition, here in San Diego. On top of winning several awards, Team Spyder came in 6th out of 58 teams – quite an accomplishment!  Which award was most meaningful to you, and why?

Philip: The most meaningful award to me was winning the Engineering Inspiration award. The main reason being is that this award is due to the commitment of all our team members, and not only the handful that worked on machining or wiring the robot. The Engineering Inspiration award is a true team award, and is given to the team that best teaches and inspires its community about engineering. I am proud to be a leader on a team that is committed to spreading the ideals of STEM, teamwork, and dedication throughout San Diego and beyond.


PTG:  What do you think contributed to your team’s success the most at the San Diego Regionals?

Philip: There were many factors that contributed to our success both on and off the field. The robot’s ability to adapt to many different strategies was a key reason in making it successful, as we could stack totes, place bins on top of stacks, and put noodles in the bins for extra points. We could pick totes up from any height, and could stack totes that were upside-down, allowing us to have access to totes from anywhere in the field. The coordination between the drivers and the human player also gave us an edge against our competition as they worked smoothly and efficiently with each other.

Off the field, many team members were focused on keeping people safe within the arena, while others explained to judges how Team Spyder has positively impacted our community. The team’s enthusiasm heavily impacted the judge’s decisions, and the amount of work Team Spyder has put into educating and inspiring the community about engineering allowed us to win the Engineering Inspiration award, one of the most prestigious awards in FIRST.


PTG: How has being a part of Team Spyder helped you and other members of the team? What kind of impact will it have on your future?

Philip: For me and many others, Team Spyder has given us the opportunity to pursue our passions. Whether that is in programming, mechanical design, or even website development and journalism, Team Spyder has allowed many students to expand their knowledge and hone their skills in the fields they enjoy most. Team Spyder also allows many students a sophisticated understanding of engineering which lets them really understand whether they want to pursue a certain field outside high school. Team Spyder also encourages many of its students to take on leadership roles, as many will have been a sub-team captain or club officer.

Team Spyder is a unique club in Poway High School because it teaches students so much more than robotics. Team Spyder encourages students to push themselves academically, put themselves outside their comfort zone, and become leaders throughout their community. Team Spyder teaches students about time management, commitment and dedication, and communication skills. Students who participate in the Poway High School Robotics club become better prepared for college and have a better understanding about their passions and potential. Team Spyder gives students the key to unlock their futures, and our mentors and sponsors help guide and support the students into pursuing their dreams.

Personally, Team Spyder has influenced me in countless ways. It has taught me about business management, leadership, and the engineering design process. I have learned how to better formulate my thoughts into words, and how to plan ahead for the future. Through my experiences in Team Spyder, I have decided to major in Mechanical Engineering, and will absolutely pursue a job within the engineering community. Whether it is in aeronautics, robotics, or perhaps automobile design, I want to have a hand in designing the future

Team Spyder’s robot in action at the San Diego Regional competition.


PTG: PTG donated 6AL-4V 0.375” x 3” x 30” titanium plates to Team Spyder. Can you help our readers understand how this was used on the robot and what benefits titanium offered? Why choose titanium over other metals for this particular application?

Kent: Within this year’s robotics challenge, the team determined that having the capacity to lift heavy loads as well as being able to transport these loads were crucial to building an efficient robot. To accomplish this, we designed a gripping mechanism that would grab and lift the game pieces that resembles a forklift with articulating arms. In our CAD analysis of this mechanism we discovered that there would be an inch of displacement if the arms of the mechanism were fabricated using the traditional aluminum we use. This realization drove us to use titanium in order to prevent this potential failure point. The implementation of the titanium would provide greater rigidity and strength to the mechanism as well as lessen any damage our robot would otherwise receive from this component’s failure.


PTG:   Were there any difficulties in machining the titanium?

Kent: Our robotics team is very accustomed to fabricating with aluminum and steel, so naturally manufacturing titanium was an exciting and exotic experience. Lacking the resources to cut the material in our own shop, the team outsourced this to another of the team’s corporate partner, a local water jet company, who offered to cut the material for free. Once the larger shapes were cut, the team could drill the remaining features using the machines within our material shop located at the school. The parts came out beautifully and performed flawlessly. The entire manufacturing process of these pieces occurred without any major difficulties because of the fantastic advice and guidance we received from the employees at PTG.


We just can’t say enough how impressed we are with Team Spyder and the whole FIRST Robotics program. The experience it gives to the students and the way it brings individuals, companies, and communities together is pretty amazing!


To learn more about Team Spyder:
To learn more about FIRST Robotics:
To learn more about the VEX Platform: