The Tahoma High School robotics team, Bear Metal, made it to the FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — Robotics Championship held April 17-20 in Houston.
This is only the second time Bear Metal has ever made to the world championship. According to Shane Beres, student team member on Bear Metal, it felt good to have all the team’s hard work pay off. He said Bear Metal made it as the top six ranked robotics team in the world because of all the hours the team put into prior competitions.
“We spend anywhere from 40 to 50 hours a week during the build season in the shop working on robotics along with going to school. So to actually win a lot of events, it feels really good,” Beres said.
Bear Metal won two of three district events and qualified for the district championships in the Pacific Northwest division, which the team won, leading them to the world championship in Houston. Bear Metal was in the “Hopper Division” at the championship, which they won.
How they got this season started
Ryleigh Weston, Bear Metal student, said the whole season starts early in the school year, and the competition that leads them to world championship is called FRC, or FIRST Robotics Competition.
Each year, teams learn how to play a new game against other teams. This year’s game was “Destination Deep Space,” which was sponsored by Boeing, Weston said.
The team of around 75 students has six weeks to build the robot during “build season” in order to compete in this game.
“We have six weeks and that’s including us figuring out how do we want to build our robot. We do CAD, which is computer aided design. We use a program called Autodesk Inventor. So we design our robot after going through some prototypes, kind of figuring out what mechanisms work, what doesn’t. Then from there we fabricate it,” Weston said.
Six weeks might seem like very little time to build a 150-pound robot, but Bear Metal takes it a step further and builds two robots. Weston said this is because they use one to practice and one to compete.
Most of the students who participate in the robotics club are skilled and passionate about technology, so while building the robot can be complicated, as a team they are able to figure everything out pretty quick, she said.
Robotics student Sarina Sanjay said there are usually 60 qualification matches. Teams are randomized and put into different groups or alliances, and each alliance consists of three teams.
“They take the cumulative score of each team and they use that in ranking systems. Each team is ranked based on their abilities and then at the end of the day, the competition’s final day, they usually have alliance selections. And the top eight alliances pick the team that they want to have in the competition,” Sanjay said.
There are two ranking points for every win and one point for a tie — and if you lose, you get no points. There are different objectives for gaining additional points. One of them is to fill a rocket with six large balls and then the other one is to climb onto the “hab” or “habitat,” which is essentially a tall platform.
The highest “hab” is about 19 inches, said Andy Debot, robotics student. He said Bear Metal had the top five fastest climb in the world. The Bear Metal robot got up onto the hab in about 1.9 seconds, whereas others were taking 5 to 10 seconds.
Funding, skills and community outreach
Bear Metal is funded through fundraising and sponsors.
“We’re self-sustainable. The past year I think we raised over $116,000 in revenue and our ASB has given us support, but we’re really sustainable through our fundraisers that we host throughout the year,” student Sarina Sanjay said.
Sponsorship from companies like Boeing and Pinnacle Medical are another big aspect of what keeps the team competing every year.
According to robotics student Avery Black, students rely on these sponsors for a lot more than just money.
“It’s also skills, especially for programming. We’re using skills and programs actually out in the field,” Black said.
Some students say Tahoma High School’s robotics club fills in the blanks that regular classrooms can’t offer, such as hands-on engineering and technology training.
“I wanted to program and engineer, and I thought the only way I was going to be able to do that is if I joined a club that would teach me how to program because it’s next to impossible to get into (it) on your own,” Andy Debot said. “So when I joined robotics, I went into it thinking this would be a great way to get started into my future, and then it progressed into a hobby.”
Aside from gaining skills and funding, robotics student Murou Wong said community outreach is important. She said when the team isn’t building or competing, it’s doing outreach events such as going to elementary schools and doing presentations about robotics, along with a showcase of the robot Bear Metal built. Bear Metal also has a booth at Maple Valley Days and does a summer camp for kids ages 9 to 13.
While fundraising, gaining new skills and community outreach are important aspects to Bear Metal, the most important thing to note is students who join the team gain other life skills, Wong said.
“You learn leadership, you learn accountability, responsibility — all of the ‘ilities’ — a lot of the important things I’ve learned here … I know that I found another family here and we’re all super close,” Wong said. “All of the teams in the PNW are close, we’re like a little community.”