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Draper Journal

Alta robotics team wins engineering inspiration award, competes at world championships

Aug 10, 2023 11:27AM ● By Julie Slama

Alta High’s robotics team, which won the engineering inspiration award at regionals, competed at the world championship this past spring. (Photo courtesy of Alta High Robotics)

Alta High students milled a caster serve drive for their robot, LUXO, so it could turn and change direction more quickly.

“It can induce a lateral torque instead of having to rotate to the module first so the robot can spin in any direction,” said Ron Strohm, Alta High’s robotics coach. “They kids used our machinery to make it.”

This device helped propel Alta High’s robotics team to earn the engineering inspiration award at the FIRST robotics Utah regional competition, and it gave them a bid to compete at worlds. The team placed seventh at the Utah competition and third at the Idaho regional.

“It may have cost more, but the kids learned how to make their own drive and have a better understanding of it. That’s what is important,” he said, adding that the Steve Jacobsen Foundation supplied funding for the metal.

The team shared their blueprints for the device, which also follows along FIRST’s core values of “co-opertition” — cooperative competition — and gracious professionalism.

“They found a lot of schools’ robotics team wanted to see kids learn how to do this as well. It teaches them how to design, machine, put together and test it — and likely redo it as we did. It’s the full engineering process they applied. I’m proud of what they did. It’s a completely different gear system that they machined and manufactured,” he said.

Strohm said that past two years, the robotics students didn’t use the drivetrain kit that was supplied.

“We try to do everything in house. The last two years, our veteran team used our new CNC mill machine and made the drivetrain on up for both robots. Our rookie team learned and used it,” he said.

Alta’s robotics program has 22 members on its veteran team and 24 newcomers to its rookie team. Strohm anticipates about 60 students participating next year.

“These are the nerds. They hang out in my room, building robots. Most won’t do sports. In fact, all my kids have a chance to go pro and none of my kids will get a concussion,” he said, adding that they also learn hands-on leadership, communication and creative problem-solving skills.

In fact, three of the four seniors who graduated, received full rides for college and many students earn a varsity letter in robotics, Strohm said.

“Our students keep their grades up; that’s more important than a competition,” he said, adding that the team average GPA is 3.0. “A lot of our students take AP classes and teammates help each other with homework. They have a lot of knowledge, both for the classroom and how to build and compete. They’re accomplished.”

Strohm combined the teams so 33 students traveled to Houston for worlds where about 650 teams competed. Last year Alta High also participated at this level. Sponsors, including Motorola and the Jacobsen Foundation, helped fund the trip and FedEx shipped the robot and battery for free.

“To make it to worlds two years in a row is phenomenal,” he said, adding that the teams they mentored, North Sanpete and Herriman high schools, also advanced to compete in Houston. “A lot of tough teams come to Utah to qualify for worlds so it’s competitive. Just seeing what other teams do, meeting and talking to teams where it’s a class and not an afterschool activity — they learn so much. It’s eye-opening and fun.”

While Alta didn’t place or win any awards at worlds, Strohm received the Woodie Flowers Award, named for one who inspired and supported many students in 30-plus years of collaborating on the development of FIRST robotics. He was honored with the award at the Idaho regional competition based on his students’ nomination.

“The kids know my approach is not focused on winning a competition, but more on their learning. They respect me and trust me to teach them. They know how to build a robot, they know how to design, they know how to make it work. I’m not in the pit trying to help; they’re fixing what isn’t working. FIRST robotics isn’t Daddy’s pinewood derby; I’m hands-off as much as possible,” he said.

Among the many awards Alta robotics have received include the prestigious Chairman’s Award and in the school’s first year of competing, the rookie inspiration award. Strohm also has received the coaching mentor award. λ