Loudoun County Robotics Team Resilient After Award-Winning Robot Stolen

UPDATE, April 10, 2015: A coalition of businesses and individuals in Loudoun County have come together to turn things around. RoboLoco will receive the money and equipment needed to rebuild their robot and compete later this month. See more in the video above.

The students from Loudoun County known as RoboLoco are used to overcoming a few obstacles on their way to creating a working robot capable of winning a robotics championship.

The team of just 10 students -- from Loudoun's Academy of Science and Monroe Technology Center -- is smaller than most. This is only their second year. 

Their grit and determination, however, led the team to win runner-up honors Saturday at the regional FIRST robotics championship in Knoxville, the Judge's Trophy and an invitation to the FIRST World Championships. 

And they will need that determination: After the competition Saturday, someone stole their SUV from the parking lot of their Knoxville hotel. And inside that car was all of their gear. 

Gone were all their trophies. Gone was all their equipment. And gone was the robot -- nicknamed The Red Baron -- that led the team to success Saturday.


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Knoxville police are investigating, but the team has been warned not to get their hopes up. The vehicle was tracked to rural Cocke County, Tennessee, about an hour east of the city; Knoxville police said the county is well known for chop shops that cut stolen cars into parts.

"I'm a little bit mad," said Jeevna Prakash, a sophomore with RoboLoco. "That was all the nights of sleep we lost, all the time lost. All the time we spent getting money from sponsors, finding materials, fixing things, doing test runs."

The team didn't stay mad for long. They were already regrouping Monday. FIRST will allow them to try to transform a backup practice robot in time for the world competition in St. Louis on April 22.

"I'm pretty confident we can pull together our resources and build a much better robot," said Daniel Pham, a RoboLoco sophomore. "It would be great if we could find our original vehicle, but I'm confident in our team."

"We know what we did and how we can fix it and improve on it," said Joshua Burnell.

"The next two weeks are going to be really tough," Ronak Shah said. "I think we have this weekend. We are going to be staying up a lot."

The students do still have their medals from the weekend and the motivation from the surprise success. "I'm still ecstatic we're going to Worlds. I did not expect this at all," said senior Mary Zell Galen.

Robotic teams from Fairfax and Loudoun have already offered help and materials. One of the team's sponsors, Oribital ATK, Inc. also gave the team a boost today with a promise to pay for their Worlds registration free.

"Adversity like this kind of has its way of making you rise to the top," said Robotics Coach Dr. Michael Tomlinson.

To learn more about the RoboLoco team, visit their web site or email the team. You can also follow the team on Twitter.

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