Jody Davis

Ro bots. Whether you love ‘em or fear ‘em, there exists no doubt that it takes a person with a brilliant mind to imagine them, assemble them, and cipher the artificial intelligence to make them work.

We are privileged to have our little own pod of these highly perspicacious humans right here at Brookings-Harbor High School in the shape of a Robotics club — known collectively for years as the Deep Space Niners.

The Niners will be competing Thursday-Saturday at Clackamas Academy of Industrial Science, in Oregon City in the first of two district-level tournaments held this month, sponsored by FIRST Robotics Competition.

Lake Oswego Senior High School, in Lake Oswego, will host the second leg of the district competitions, a.k.a. FRC-PNW (Pacific Northwest), March 28-30.

If the team does well in these two challenges, they will be invited to compete for the district championship title in Tacoma, Washington, April 4-6. Winning there, they will travel on to the National competition in Houston, April 17-20.

The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) competition is open to students enrolled in grades 9-12. More than 650,000 youth participate, and hail from over 100 countries worldwide. The organization distributes an excess of $80 Million in scholarships every year.

This year, the robot made by this very talented group at Brookings-Harbor High School is just so... well... super cool. I think one would expect to see something a bit more “primitive” from a group of young, high-school students. Instead, what these talented local kids have produced, rivals anything you might see while watching a nightly news program highlighting the next great invention in robotic science. Creative, highly-skilled innovation radiates from the collaborative design made by these 12 technically inclined students.

At the beginning of the official build season Jan. 5 - Feb.19, students were given a list of specific criteria their robot was expected to meet in order to be eligible to compete. Robots are judged on how well they accomplish the tasks they were designed for.

“Our robot is required to lift up 13-inch rubber balls, place six of them into a ‘rocket’, which is up to 7.5 ft high, and then place six ‘hatches’ on the sides of the ‘rocket’,” describes McKenna Davis-Overley, second-year Robotics Club member, treasurer for the team, and Associated Student Body (ASB) vice-president.

“Competitions are, by far, one of the best parts of our six-week season,” says Davis-Overley. “It’s so exciting to see our countless hours of hard work pay off, and we get to see our robot in action. Competing against other teams is so exhilarating, and the teamwork and sportsmanship is amazing.”

She went on to point out, “If a team sees a rival team struggling with anything, they will, without hesitation, send one of their members or mentors to come help. It’s a very unique atmosphere.”

Davis-Overley says she is ready and looking forward to the 2019 competition. She is proud of the job the team has done and believes they have a very good chance at victory this year.

“Things really came together for us this year,” Davis-Overley explained. “We finished right on time, and I think we should do really well in the competition.”

She also expects their club’s name might be a fun source of amusement for those attending the competition.

“The theme of this year’s competition is ‘DESTINATION: DEEP SPACE’, which is kind of funny because our team name is ‘Deep Space Niners’,” she chuckled. “We’ve had it for a long time.”

Many club members began studying Robotics when it was first offered to them in 8th grade, and already have 5 years of education in the subject under their belts.

BHHS Robotics Club President and Associated Student Body (ASB) President Nathaniel Barnard is one such student. He illustrated the importance of the program and shared a bit about how it has helped him prepare for his next stage in life.

“The robotics program is important because it gives students a real-world connection to the math and science they take in class. Few opportunities exist that allow such a tangible understanding of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education,” he explained.

“Anyone who likes to tinker, crunch numbers, work as a team, or be a part of something bigger, should join. That’s not just student’s either; we are always looking for mentors who can lend some expertise or even just some time for adult supervision,” Barnard said.

Describing what the robotics program has meant to him, personally, he said, “Next fall, I plan to be attending a university for mechanical engineering. I have been accepted to schools all around the country, and I believe my participation in the program plays a large part in that. My innate passion for design has been nurtured by the countless hours spent working away in the shop.”

Barnard estimates he has invested somewhere around 2000 hours into the Robotics program, including time spent working in the shop. During this time, he says he has honed skills like Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM), circuitry, networking, soldering, welding, programming, time management, delegation, manufacturing skills, pneumatic systems, mechanical design, use of hand and power tools, etc.

Adding a bit of program history, Barnard explained that Brookings-Harbor Robotics FRC Team 4110 was founded in 2011 by Science and Technology teacher Alain Chirinian. Barnard felt it was important to give the founding teacher credit for a program that has made such a difference in the lives of so many students.

Davis-Overley also gives credit to the club’s current teacher, Gary Suter.

Suter took over the team for Daniel Schilter in 2017.

“Mr. Suter is a very unique teacher,” Davis-Overley says. “He works very hard to get students interested in engineering and building. At first, he comes off as a very tough, no-nonsense guy, but when you get to the end of those six weeks, you discover that he’s really caring towards his team and will do anything to help us succeed.”

Illustrating her point further, she explains, “He’s pulled out his air mattress before and slept on the shop floor so that we could work all night before; he’s not your ordinary shop teacher.”

The 12-member student Robotics Club, together with lead-advisor, Suter, and mentors, Dane Tippman, Mike Manning, Justin Flores, and Sascha Kay, worked hard designing, building, and programming what is sure to be one of the most impressive specimens entered into the competitions.

Teresa Suter and Jessica Tippman deserve some credit for making sure the team was fed while putting in those long hours in the shop, in addition to providing help in other important areas such as fundraising.

While a teacher in Hawaii, Suter led teams to the FRC World Competition three times and would love to see his BHHS team make it that far.

Suter’s recipe for success? “Build a decent robot, and combine that with a little bit of luck,” he half-joked. “We can always use the prayers.”

Suter went on to explain, “The hardest thing is getting the money to participate. It costs $11,000 just to register for the competition. Then, you have to add travel, food, entertainment, etc., to that. We are still about $1,700 short.”

This, of course, doesn’t even include the cost to make the robot.

Suter explained that his wife has been instrumental in the fundraising process.

“My wife, Teresa, is responsible for bringing in over 70 percent of the funding. Most of it is just knocking on doors and making connections with the community.”

Several community businesses who have donated to the program include: BC Fisheries, Slugs-n-Stones and Ice Cream Cones, Pacific Coast Properties, Black Trumpet Bistro, Oregon Hydrangea Co., DW Fritz Automation, Inc., the Tippman and Manning families, and funds were also received in Honor of Joshua Fisher. Brookings-Harbor High School also has helped provide money to the program, as has the FIRST organization and Oregon Robotics Tournament and Outreach Program (ORTOP).

For more information on joining, or supporting the BHHS Robotics Club, contact Suter at BHHS: 541-469-2108.