#INSIDEKEEN: A Series of UNEEKBOT Events
By Haunani Tomas, KEEN Global Innovation & Experience Project Specialist
When the UNEEKBOT Team was asked to write a piece that would reflect our year on the road, I hesitated. I could curate a list of highlights that defined the 2018 UNEEKBOT Tour: a trio of under-25-year-olds driving 14,500 miles across 28 states and hosting 34 events with the UNEEKBOT, a robot that builds a pair of shoes in just under eight minutes. I could rave about the rad design schools we visited on both coasts of the United States, from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles to the Rhode Island School of Design. I could report on the KEEN Pitch Competitions and the $12,000 in cash grants that we were able to gift to the winning start-ups. I could discuss Platform and ReMode—the tradeshows we were invited to attend as the innovation attraction. I could even talk about my time in Japan, where KEEN collaborated with BEAMS, to put on a same-day manufacturing and customization event for those who wished to purchase shoes made by the UNEEKBOT.
While all of these sounded like stories full of happy details that would be easy for anybody to listen to, I decided on one-specific week during the East Coast swing of the tour. It was on this week that the level of misfortune experienced by the UNEEKBOT Team mirrored my favorite story collection as a child: “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”
If you are interested in stories with events that go according to plan, you should read about some other company in the outdoor industry. In the following stories, not very many things went according to plan during this specific week of the UNEEKBOT Tour—in fact, many things went amiss. So, if you enjoy reading about the misfortune of three young people, you should continue reading.
The three UNEEKBOT Team members, Scott, Benjamin, and Nani were hopeful employees.
From left, Benjamin, Scott, and Nani, our UNEEKBOT Team.
As UNEEKBOT Tour Manager, Scott developed the tour concept of the UNEEKBOT. Having come into his position roughly a year prior, Scott unfailingly led the team with a positive attitude, thus earning him the nickname “Sweet, Sweet Scott.” Much to Benjamin’s disagreement, Scott was most skilled in the game “Settlers of Catan.” Catan for short, is a strategy board game often enjoyed by the UNEEKBOT Team after a day of work, where Scott took pride in earning 11 victories over the course of the UNEEKBOT Tour. As a foodie and golfing enthusiast, Scott was responsible for everything that Benjamin and Nani knew about David Chang and Tiger Woods, whether they were interested or not.
Benjamin, a 2018 graduate of Lewis and Clark, was recruited by Scott while he was finishing his last trimester of school. Whilst on the road during their West Coast Tour, Benjamin completed his senior thesis. Although a licensed driver by land, Benjamin much preferred air travel and recently enrolled in flight school. His enthusiasm for learning and genuine need to share his learnings once led him to explain to Nani the difference between plane and jet engines and how both become airborne, even though Nani did not ask. Benjamin, also an experienced Catan player, earned six wins over the course of the UNEEKBOT Tour.
Once accepting the position as Field Marketing Coordinator of the UNEEKBOT Tour, Haunani moved to Portland from the island of Hawaii. When she wasn’t complaining about the weather, Nani practiced hand lettering and calligraphy. Nani, although a Catan fan, had but two Catan victories under her belt and was incessantly reminded of this fact by both Scott and Benjamin—every day. Although the most challenged at Catan, “Happy Haunani” was unrivaled when it came to minding her own business.
Although they were hard-working, resilient, and adaptable, among countless other admirable qualities, the UNEEKBOT Team was extremely unlucky during this week of work. The misfortune of the UNEEKBOT Team began at Newton High School.
The First Flat Tire
After an email blast was sent out to KEEN fans about the West Coast swing of the UNEEKBOT Tour and its plans for an East Coast swing later in the year, two teachers from New Jersey reached out to inquire about the UNEEKBOT potentially stopping at their respective schools: Newton High School and Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School.
Following Jim’s inquiry, the UNEEKBOT Team learned about Newton High School’s Varsity Robotics Team. The Newton Robotics Team were two-time qualifiers at the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), an international high school robotics competition, dubbed the “Super Bowl of Varsity Robotics” by the NJ Herald. At the 2017 FRC Regional Competition, the Newton Robotics Team were voted as the recipients of the Engineering Inspiration Award for “creatively [opening] the world of engineering through their extensive mentorship and continual expansion of all levels of the FIRST ecosystem.” Annually, the Robotics Team hosted STEM Barn Demonstrations as the New Jersey State Fair.
With two robotic arms that can create made-to-order UNEEK sandals right on the spot, UNEEKBOT is a programming wonder.
The UNEEKBOT team had plans to travel directly from Princeton to New York until discovering that both of the New Jersey high schools were along the way. The UNEEKBOT Team planned to host a KEEN Outdoor Classroom Experience at Newton High School on Monday and then at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School on Tuesday before making their way to New York.
Sunday 1 p.m., Newton, NJ
Accustomed to traffic jams causing delays, arriving in the late hours of night, and requesting late check-ins, the UNEEKBOT Team was unfamiliar with “being ahead of schedule,” a phrase which means “having done something before the time given on a schedule or before the expected time.” The UNEEKBOT Team arrived at the Holiday Inn of Newton of New Jersey, two hours ahead of schedule, in preparation for their Outdoor Classroom Experience the following day at Newton High School. The UNEEKBOT Team had overbudgeted driving time for their commute from Princeton and was invited to sit in the lobby while they waited for two hours for their rooms to be available.
To Scott’s pleasure, the UNEEKBOT Team was the lobby’s only patrons. So, without asking the group’s preference, Scott flipped the television to the Masters Golf Tournament. As they prepared to be educated about each Masters invitee for the next two hours, Ben and Nani each thought to themselves how extremely convenient this situation was. In addition to arriving hours before expected, the hotel’s parking lot was empty, which allowed for the ease of parking the 60-foot truck and trailer setup, something that the UNEEKBOT team was also unaccustomed to.
Here, the UNEEKBOT Team allowed themselves to relax, a term here which can be defined as “letting Scott freely discuss the taxonomy of Tiger Woods, including but not limited to, Tiger’s transition from Nike to TaylorMade clubs, his iconic Scotty Cameron putter, and his trademark sporting of red shirts on Sundays of the final tournament round.”
Sunday 3:30 p.m.
By the time Patrick Reed was draped in the iconic green jacket of the Masters Champions, the UNEEKBOT Team’s rooms were ready for check-in. As the team gathered their bags, Jim Hofmann, Technology Teacher and Varsity Robotics Coach at Newton High School, invited the Team to park the trailer at the high school’s upperclassmen parking lot that night, to avoid the morning rush of traffic that the UNEEKBOT Team was so familiar with. Gladly accepting the offer, the team checked in and headed over to Newton High School.
Stranger to the convenience that they had experienced in Newton so far, the UNEEKBOT Team was surprised, for the third time that day, at the ease of this pull-through park job. Although they anticipated that the upperclassmen of Newton High School would be less than pleased with the UNEEKBOT’s temporary occupation of their parking lot, the team was distracted by their ability to remain ahead of the schedule, yet again. The UNEEKBOT Team was able to set up the robot that night which would cut down on 45 minutes of their total set up time on Monday morning. Translation: the team was able to set up the robot that night which would allow for a 6:45 a.m. wake-up call, opposed to 6 a.m., permitting 45 minutes more of slumber. All of this was good news to the UNEEKEBOT Team. As they settled into bed at 9 p.m., the most reasonable hour they would this week, they were excited about the convenience that tomorrow would bring.
The morning started as planned, and groups of students were brought to the upperclassmen lot for a KEEN Outdoor Classroom Experience. Students saw the UNEEKBOT in action, and Scott and Benjamin answered questions about working at KEEN, college, becoming an engineer, shoe manufacturing, product design, sustainability, and living in Portland. Of the topics discussed, students were extremely curious about sustainability and KEEN’s charitable outreach, which prompted the UNEEKBOT Team to later create the UNEEKBOT High School Challenge: a prompt asking small groups of students how they would upcycle or repurpose waste byproduct of the World’s Smallest Shoe Factory, specifically plastic bags, paracord, and flanges.
Monday, 11:15 a.m.
Between block periods, Nani exclaimed, “It’s such a beautiful day!”
At 75 degrees with minimal cloud coverage, it was in fact a beautiful day. As someone who never passed the chance to comment on the forecast, Nani was known for her fastidious scrutiny of the weather. Having been raised in the tropical climate of Hawaii, Scott, Benjamin, and especially Mother Nature found that Nani was, to put it lightly, disapproving of the weather everywhere else. Known as a hard-to-please person in general, it seemed that on sunny days, Nani was most critical. Nani’s weather commentary oft included the phrases “so hot” and “too bright” as well as “too much cloud coverage” and “not warm enough.”
So, when Nani exclaimed, “It’s such a beautiful day!” Benjamin and Scott were stunned. In addition to all of yesterday’s good fortune, Nani’s satisfaction with the weather and seemingly uplifting mood was more than Scott and Ben could ask for. And then, the staff at Newton High provided the UNEEKBOT Team with lunch. The UNEEKBOT Team was overwhelmed with disbelief. Nani was never pleased with the weather yet here she was, yet here they were, encountering a series of things that rarely, if ever, happened to them. Could anything go wrong?
The final bell rang to signify the end of the school day, and the UNEEKBOT Team felt as if the the entire day had whizzed by. Anticipating their work day would end at 4 p.m., the UNEEKBOT Team cheerfully began their breakdown routine. Tools and cord were unloaded from the robot, display shoes were packed, and the stages were closed, making the World’s Smallest Shoe Factory mobile once more.
Before departing from any location with the truck and trailer set, the UNEEKBOT Team is required to complete a Pre-Trip Inspection of the truck and trailer set. As part of the PTI checklist list, the UNEEKBOT Team is required to, in summary, inspect the truck and trailer for any damage and fluid leakage as well as monitor the tire pressure, gauges, and lights, and lastly, take notice of their surroundings.
So, once their breakdown routine was complete, tire gauge in hand, Nani began checking the tire pressure of the trailer tires. At the direction of one Brian Mackey, KEEN’s Motor Pool Manager, the UNEEKBOT Team was to keep the tire pressure of the trailer tires between 70-75 PSI, to which Scott and Benjamin thought Nani was incessantly persistent about. She repeated the PSI to herself after checking each tire, so she would remember when she relayed the message to the boys: “70… 70, 71… 70, 71, 71…”
One more tire left, and we are set to go! Nani thought to herself.
She repeated the PSI of the previous tires, “70, 71, 71… 40.” That can’t be right. She measured the tire pressure twice more and received the same reading. Unsure of what to make of the tire gauge reading, Nani called Benjamin over and thought to herself, he’s probably going to ask me if I’ve ever done this before. She rolled her eyes and shoved the tire gauge out toward Benjamin.
Without a word, Benjamin took the tire gauge from Nani and bent down next to the tire in question. He thought to himself, why is she acting like she’s never done this before? After spending nearly four months of the past year together traveling, reading each other’s thoughts was a natural occurrence that they had both become accustomed, in addition to, to Scott’s dismay, finishing each other’s sentences.
Arms crossed, Nani waited for Benjamin to inform her that her reading of the tire gauge was incorrect and that the tire pressure was 70 PSI. To her surprise Ben stood up and sighed. “We have to get the air compressor out.”
To their dismay, the air compressor, although conveniently available in the back of their trailer, did the UNEEKBOT Team no good. The tire wasn’t holding air at all. So, the UNEEKBOT Team laughed at the idea of a 4 p.m. hard stop and routed themselves to the nearest Firestone that carried their trailer tire size.
“Dad can I call you back? I’m kind of busy,” Nani said as she cracked the last lug nut on the trailer’s flat tire.
“Why? What are you doing? Where are you?” her dad questioned. Nearly dropping her phone from between her ear and shoulder, Nani stood up and gave Benjamin the okay to start backing up the trailer onto the tiny ramp so she could dismount the flat tire.
“We’re in New Jersey and if I tell you what I’m doing—” she paused to give Benjamin the stop signal once the rear trailer tire was successfully backed on to the ramp. Benjamin hopped out of the truck and gave Nani a wave, and she assumed he was excusing himself to go to the restroom.
“If I tell you what I’m doing,” Nani began again and sighed. “You’re not gonna believe me anyway,” she finished as she knelt back down to remove the lug nuts and place them in the center cap so as not to lose them. At the advice of her father almost 15 years prior, whenever they changed a flat or rotated a set of tires, her dad was annoyingly adamant about keeping lug nuts in their designated center caps, having misplaced lug nuts too many times prior.
There was silence on the other end as her dad waited for her to explain. “Wait, hold on, Dad.”
Scott approached Nani and explained that Stan, one of the Firestone workers, was filling the trailer’s spare tire with air and that Scott would bring it out to her once he was finished.
“Super. Can you ask him to bring a torque wrench, too? Please?” Nani asked, phone still placed between her ear and shoulder. Scott nodded and made his way back to the shop.
“What?!” her dad exclaimed and began laughing. “Are you—are you changing a tire?”
As the daughter of a mechanic whose number one priority was ensuring his low-riding, 1967 Chevrolet CK Series was polished and show ready, Nani had shown little to nearly no interest in cars. Unlike her motorhead younger brother, who partook in flipping quads and dirt bikes with the help of their dad, Nani didn’t understand the appeal of mechanics or machinery in general. She complained every time her dad asked her for help with anything that involved getting grease on her hands or her clothes.
“Yes. The trailer has a flat.” She curtly replied. Her dad’s laughter was audible to an approaching Scott, who was rolling the spare tire with one hand and torque wrench in the other.
“Try not to dirty your clothes,” her dad teased. “Oh, your brother is not going to believe this.”
“Ugh, leave me alone. I’ll call you back,” Nani said as she hung up on her dad’s now incessant laughter.
Once the flat tire had been changed out, the spare tire was loaded on, and the trailer was moved off the tiny ramp, Nani tightened each lug nut, waiting for the loud click of the torque wrench.
“Where’s Ben?” Nani inquired, thinking he was in the bathroom for quite some time at this point. Scott chuckled and pointed to the Sports Clips across the street.
“He’s getting a haircut?” Nani rolled her eyes and held the torque wrench out to Scott to take, which he didn’t.
“Honestly, I think I’m gonna go get one too,” said Scott staring at the torque wrench in Nani’s outstretched hands. Scrunching his nose, he commented, “Your hands are a little dirty.”
“Ugh! Leave me alone,” said Nani.
“You’re good to stay with the truck and trailer until Ben gets back, right?” Scott grinned knowing fully well Nani could not say no and began walking toward Sports Clips without waiting for her response.
Exasperated and, more than anything, hungry, Nani opened the back of the trailer to place the socket attachment back into their 70-piece socket kit. When she opened it, somehow three-quarters of the kit’s contents spilled and scattered onto the trailer floor and pavement. Blinking in disbelief, Nani stopped herself from collecting all the pieces and instead decided to wait—Benjamin could help her with one thing that day.
The Poor Pre-Trip Inspection
Tuesday, Scotch Plains, NJ
On the day that the UNEEKBOT was scheduled to visit Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, it was a rather rainy Tuesday. Had the UNEEKBOT team tuned into the local news on Monday evening, or even bothered to take a quick look at the weather forecast on their phones, maybe they could have prepared themselves for the series of saturated events that lay ahead. Perhaps the Team would have checked the forecast, had they all not been pre-occupied Monday afternoon: Scott and Ben thought it appropriate to get haircuts while Nani changed the flat tire on the trailer. Thanks to the motor pool training of one Brain Mackey, Scott and Ben had full faith in Nani’s ability to maintenance the trailer.
Yes, the UNEEKBOT Team had weathered many a torrential downpour while driving through the Midwest, even outran a storm en route to Louisville. They had labored through, sometimes consecutive, 12-hour long event days and were accustomed to irregular hours of work. Be as that may, they had yet to endure a day-long event in the rain.
Upon arriving at SPFHS, the UNEEKBOT Team was instructed to park on Westfield Road. This specific location faced the front entrance of the school and was framed by two tall, statures trees (see photo). On this particular Tuesday on which the UNEEKBOT was to visit Scotch Plains, it had been raining all morning with no signs of blue skies in the near future.
As the students filed into the hallways of Scotch Plains-Fanwood before the morning bell, the UNEEKBOT Team began their setup. To their surprise, setup was quite normal—Nani and Scott unloaded the storage bins in the trailer while Benjamin loaded up the robot. Nani and Scott moved ever so carefully to avoid slipping and to Nani’s surprise, they were successful. Although her jeans and sweater were inevitably a bit damp from being outside, Nani thought to herself, “This isn’t so bad!”
The Team popped down both stages and set out both awnings so the students who came to visit the UNEEKBOT could stay dry. Prior to this Tuesday, the awnings had only ever served as shade—today, the New Jersey precipitation would put to their water resistance test.
For the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Raiders, the UNEEKBOT Team had planned a KEEN Outdoor Classroom Experience. The UNEEKBOT Team would host 45-minute blocks throughout the school day in which Scott gave a brief history of KEEN and a day in the life of working in the footwear industry, Ben discussed engineering jobs in the footwear and apparel industries, and Nani explained the construction of the UNEEK. Students were especially interested in KEEN’s sustainability initiatives and practices and were curious on how the UNEEKBOT followed suit. The UNEEKBOT Team was happy to report that the extra cord is donated to the Girl Scouts for knot tying practice and the excess flanges are given to Green Sole and upcycled into slippers for less fortunate youth in India—both of which seemed to satisfy the students’ sustainability needs.
As the day progressed, so did the rain. The rain began seeping through what cracks it could find in the containers that were set outside that morning, something that Nani would realize once the Team began breakdown during the day. During one of the 15-minute lulls between class periods, the awning on the right side of the main stage gave out under all the water it was not accustomed to withstanding. Although appearing slightly uneven to those who approached the UNEEKBOT trailer, the awning still did its job of keeping those who stood under it dry.
At the ring of the final bell, the UNEEKBOT Team should have begun breakdown but a slew of the students who didn’t get a chance to see the robot during school hours came, and then kept coming. When Scott realized that breakdown would probably not occur for at least another hour and a half, until students went onto their extracurricular activities and campus emptied, he thought it best to get some Thai Food as a late lunch—something he knew Benjamin and Nani would not dispute.
Scott detached the truck from the trailer and went on his merry way. Benjamin and Nani should have began packing, however, evidence of an enthusiastic crowd covered the entire floor of the trailer—mud had been tracked onto the stage and into the trailer from the students’ and teachers’ trudge from the main campus to where the UNEEKBOT was parked. Benjamin thought to himself, if only there was a mechanism or tool portable enough to absorb a mess… A mop! Maybe some towels! And probably a—
“We need a mop. Maybe some towels. And probably a bucket,” Nani interrupted Benjamin’s thoughts somehow with his own thoughts, as if she was reading his mind. After spending nearly four months of the past year together traveling, this was a natural occurrence that they had both become accustomed, in addition to, to Scott’s dismay, finishing each other’s sentences.
Ill-equipped, Benjamin and Nani focused on packing up the robot parts for the time being and then sat and watched the rain while they waited for Scott to return with their afternoon sustenance and necessary supplies.
To their surprise, Scott returned with tenfold more than what they’d asked for. In addition to Thai food, which Benjamin and Nani were already excited for (Benjamin and Nani were always excited for food), Scott had made a slight detour and got Benjamin a Razor Scooter and Nani a Rip Stick—two childhood items that the duo were raving about the day just before. Scott had also bought Nani a change of clothes because of her incessant complaining about her saturated jeans the entire day. The team laughed at the ten towels that Scott had bought “just in case.”
Once they were filled with the lunch specials that Siam House had to offer, the rain had subsided and the UNEEKBOT Team tiredly, but cheerfully, began packing up the truck and trailer. Each of the three began taking turns mopping off the stage and drying it off enough so that the trailer was clean enough for their event at the Fashion Institute of Technology the following day.
When Nani began loading the bins back into the trailer, she noticed that one of the bins was making a sloshing noise when she picked it up. It was then that Nani realized that water had seeped into most of the containers that had been stored outside during the day. So, before packing the bins into the trailer, they unpacked each of the boxes and dried the objects inside as best they could. Although a tedious task, Benjamin and Nani were grateful that Scott had bought as many towels as he did and apologized for poking fun at him in the first place.
As part of their daily pre-trip inspection list, the UNEEKBOT Team is required to, in summary, inspect the truck and trailer for any damage and fluid leakage as well as monitor the tire pressure, gauges, and lights. In addition to the truck and trailer set, Brian always informed them to be weary of their surroundings.
The team re-hitched the trailer, did a quick pre-trip inspection of their set, and proceeded to pull out of Westfield Road just as easily as they pulled in—or so they thought. Just as they had put the truck into drive and pulled forward a bit, the truck came to an abrupt halt. It felt as if the breakaway cable had been detached, which causes the trailer to come to an abrupt halt. The UNEEKBOT Team knew that this was a plausible cause of stop, however, something told them that this was not the case. So, they all hopped out of the truck to investigate and at almost the exact moment, it began raining, the hardest it had been all day.
What they found was that the top corner of their trailer had become one with a tree branch that was hanging at perfect height with the top of the trailer. The impact had broken off one of the handles of the step ladder and create a hole in the top corner of the trailer.
After letting out a flurry of words that sailors like to use, Nani collected the scrap metal that had fallen off the trailer while Benjamin and Scott wiggled the trailer out from under the daunting branch. They thought it best to patch up the hole to protect the circuitry of the trailer’s interior. And so the team set out to the nearest AutoZone. After purchasing tarp, plastic, and duct tape, the Team decided they also needed Flex Tape, which this particular AutoZone did not have. Luckily, there was a Home Depot nearby that had Flex Tape, and of equal importance, an overhang tall enough to house the trailer. Even more fortunately, they found a roofed garbage pick-up area under which they could patch up the trailer, dry and out of the rain.
They began the patching process by drying the area of impact as best as they could. Again, Benjamin and Nani were grateful that Scott had bought as many towels as he did and again, they apologized for poking fun at him in the first place. With the tarp and plastic, they carefully taped layer after layer over the hole, being mindful of the trailer wrapping. Every so often, Scott would caution, “Watch Chelsea’s face,” which referred to the face of Chelsea Yamase, KEEN’s (now former) brand ambassador from Kauai and, more importantly, Nani’s idol.
By the time the UNEEKBOT Team arrived back at the hotel, it was an hour before midnight. They laughed at the bind of their constrained sleeping schedule, knowing very well that they would not get a good night’s rest that night, because they had not the night prior, nor would they the rest of the nights of that week…and for most of the tour.
The World’s Smallest Shoe Factory, UNEEKBOT, is heading back on the road for the summer, visiting universities and events across the country. If we roll through your neck of the woods, be sure to stop by and say hi, and watch the UNEEKBOT in action making UNEEK sandals.