It is no easy task to turn your aspirations into reality. SOTAbots team 2557’s incessant devotion to engineering and club management has made them successful in this pursuit of their goals. The combined group of students from SOTA, SAMi, and iDEA defines dedication and self-sufficiency through the robots they build from scratch, and the mark that they make on the Tacoma community.
In 2007, robotics teacher Ken Luthy of SOTA started the club with about 10-15 students. Now, the numbers of members who meet in SOTA’s downtown Tacoma 1950 building have risen to about fifty, with every individual using their skill sets to best suit the company. Most arrive as freshmen or sophomores and leave only once they have graduated. Sara Siemens-Luthy (SAMi Outdoor Ed teacher and Luthy’s wife) has also joined the team as a coach. I was unable to speak with either coach, but several team members, and mentor Dafydd Rhys-Jones (known also as Bishop), were very willing to tell me about the goings-on in the club.
The FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is an organization that puts on international robotics competitions for middle and high school students. It is the biggest organization of its kind. Every year in beginning of January, the FRC releases a Kickoff video revealing the game that all registered robotics teams will compete in. The game for this year is Steamworks. It is an arena-based Steampunk-themed game where robots from all teams are grouped up to try and earn the most points by loading their “airship” with fuel (represented by wiffle balls) and gears. The first and second local games do not require you to have qualified. However, the winners in the local in the Glacier Peak competition will go onto the district championship at Cheney stadium, and then if they win, to World’s in Houston, Texas.
Build season begins right after Kickoff, and lasts until an event called Bag ‘n’ Tag, where every FRC robot is put into a plastic bag that cannot be reopened until the competitions, thus concluding the build season only six weeks after it has begun. The time in between is wrought with stress, mayhem, and strokes of collaborative genius. Students may work late into the night Monday through Friday, only to start up again on weekend mornings or afternoons. During the month of January, those in the Robotics miniterm may be in the shop before sunup, and leave long after sundown in order to ready themselves for the competitions to come. With the new resource of the iDEA school building, the team was able to create a practice field in the facilities in order to test run their robot. This February 2017 marked the fourth year that SOTAbots has put on a Bag ‘N’ Tag event fundraiser. Community members came to donate money, items, and services to the team for this event. 100% of the money raised from the silent auction, raffle drawing, catering services, robotics merchandise, and paid activities go towards the financial needs of the team, specifically paying the travel fees of students who could not otherwise make it to competitions.
In order to maintain organization in these busy months, the responsibilities of running a small and independent company are divided up among different parties. Coaches Ken Luthy and Sara Siemen-Luthy, general manager Preston Holmgren, assistant manager Addie Bjornson, and the club’s six or so adult mentors, help guide the leaders of the five main sub-teams: Build, Programing, CAD, Media, and Public Relations (PR). Build and CAD work to design and create the robot, while programing writes the code that will give the robot its ability to perform functions. Media’s job is to design team shirts, banners, and other products advertising their affiliation, and to document the rest of the team’s activities through photographs and videos. PR takes care of fundraising and community outreach, which includes visiting local elementary schools and introducing younger students to the functions of robots. While the team has not yet won first place at World’s, just last year they were presented with the Chairman’s Award, which celebrates their outstanding achievements as leaders in their community.
We are excited to see what SOTAbots will accomplish as they continue to grow as a team and as a company!