Lents’ Robotics Team 1432 victimized by burglary

UPDATE: See what it took to get themselves into the semi-finals. And, find out how you can keep this team going – helping teens continue this important after-school STEM program …

In 2010, just after being kicked out of Franklin High School, the FIRST Robotics Team 1432 mentor Rebecca LohKamp talks with team members at their new workshop, located at the Lents Knights of Pythias Ivanhoe Lodge. East Portland News file photo

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The former Franklin High School FIRST Robotics Team, “Mahr’s Metal Beavers”, whose dismissal from the campus for reasons never satisfactorily explained, were the subject of a past East Portland News headline story that drew reader response from around the world, has suffered a new setback which may undermine its opportunity to compete this year.

“Sometime between Wednesday night [March 18] and Friday afternoon [March 20], someone broke into our shop through an exterior window,” said long-time team mentor Rebecca LohKamp.

Thieves broke into the “Metal Beavers” workshop at Knights of Pythias Ivanhoe Lodge, in Lents, and stole items needed for their competition.

“Our driver’s station in our only PLATT box, our driver laptop with all of our code (we unfortunately don’t have a backup), the only good laptop charging cord, our good multi-meter, and our wired dayglow Xbox controller for driving the robot, were all stolen.

“We’re supposed to compete in six days. The kids are devastated and doing all they can to repair the problem. It’s a very tragic day for FRC Team 1432.”
Mentors said it is not unusual for break-ins to happen in the area, which is on S.E. 84th in basement space donated by the Knights of Pythias, but they thought their facility was securely locked at the time.

Hal Sullivan of the Knights of Pythias Ivanhoe Lodge, took this photo of the damaged steel security grate burglars pried off to gain entrance to the the robotics team’s workshop.

“They used a crowbar to break the steel security grate over the window, and pried it off,” team mentor Rebecca LohKamp told East Portland News on Sunday, March 22. “I was heartsick, the kids have more than 1,000 hours of work into this robot.”

The Metal Beavers have been working to build a robot to meet this year’s FIRST Robotics Challenge – to design a robot to lift items you would find in your home. But these machines run on controllers and computers containing complex code – both items that thieves stole from Team 1432, after breaking into the basement lab.

LohKamp said the robotics team from Lake Oswego immediately loaned them a laptop computer. “So, we’ll have a computer to run our robot in competition. And, other teams have loaned us other equipment we need for troubleshooting.

“But, our team members spent six months writing the programming that controls the robot, LohKamp added. “Now, our team has just four days to recreate the code. We’ll still compete, but it lessens our chances of scoring high enough to get into the regional competition.”

Although the window is boarded up now, what was stolen, beyond the gear of the robotics club, is irreplaceable to their mentor.

The stolen computer also contains all of their team’s grant and foundation information, LohKamp said. “I’ll have to start from scratch, to find out which grants we’re elgible, and the requirements of applying.

“This is just heartbreaking,” LohKamp told East Portland News, “but this is not going to finish our team. Raising the money to replacing all of our equipment will be challenging; but we’ve survived many setbacks over the years.”

Even more distressing to her, LohKamp, said, was that the thieves also stole her personal computer, on which she archived her family’s history.

“I’m heartsick. These are audio recordings of my father, who recently passed away, and my mother do died last year, telling stories of our family. My aunt, who also died this year, also contributed to our family history,” LohKamp said, with anguish in her voice. “There are also countless photographs.”

Otherwise, the old computer is virtually useless, with little resale value. “And, there is no personal identification information, like Social Security Numbers or any other data. It’s of absolutely no value to them. But to me, what I’ve lost is priceless; with no way it can be replaced

“Please give it back, LohKamp asked of the thieves.

The burglars pulled foam packing out of a very heavy-duty, bright yellow plastic case. “It’s very recognizable; Platt Electric had only 62 of the cases made exclusively for robotics clubs, and they each have a big PLATT logo on it.

UPDATE: Team makes deadline

Since we wrote this story a few days ago, there is good news:

“Our team members were able to rewrite the code, so the robot moves again,” reported LohKamp on March 27. “This is with many thanks to the Lake Monsters from Lake Oswego for loaning us a laptop and programmer interface.”

With that, LohKamp said the team was packing up their robot, borrowed computer and supplies, and heading south to Philomath High School for the regional competition.

If you see this case showing up for sale, or have any information on where the stolen equipment may be, you are asked to call the Portland Police Bureau “non-emergency” number, (503) 823-3333.

The nonprofit and now-independent team, which still includes Franklin High students among its members, also accepts donations on its website: CLICK HERE to open it.

© 2015 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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