Sunday, January 14, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 14, 2001

Waialua team gets its robot ready

By Tino Ramirez
Advertiser North Shore Bureau

WAIALUA — After months of preparation in electronics, engineering, metal-working and working with high-tech media, the 16 members of Waialua High School’s robotics team are hustling to get their project together for a late-March competition in San Jose, Calif.

The team wasted little time Monday after getting their first look at the components they must assemble. After a classroom discussion of the FIRST (an acronym for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics regional championship’s rules, the team went into the school’s wood shop, where motors, wheels, switches and other parts were laid out on tables.

Then it was back into the classroom to start work on strategies.

"It’s a really big mess of parts. Looking at them, I’m lost. It was explained, but I don’t know exactly how you do it," said junior Kory Ikeda, who will help create animated 3-D graphics on what the robot is supposed to do.

But it’s not about the robot.

"The robot is incidental," said Stuart Nishimura, a civilian engineer with the Navy’s Undersea Warfare Detachment in Lualualei and one of several adults mentoring the team. "We’re here to impress on the students that there is value in using your brain. It’s cool to use your brain to solve these problems."

The competition is meant to interest students in engineering and college, said Nishimura.

This will be the team’s second time in the competition. Last year Waialua won the team spirit award, and in an alliance with Honolulu’s McKinley High School and Hope Chapel Academy of Costa Mesa, Calif., the team won second place.

"It’s going to be challenging," said Ikeda. "We’ll have to know what’s going on with the construction and with everything all the smaller groups are doing."

Having just completed tutorials for the 3-D computer program, senior Mark Menor is worried about how they’re going to do it. "This is definitely more complicated than anything we’ve done for school," he said.

The competition will definitely give the team a true-to-life working experience, said Nishimura. It will require the team to cooperate at home and in San Jose with other schools.

"That’s the thing about the game I kind of like, the need for cooperation," Nishimura said to the students. "That’s real important. When you go out and work, that’s exactly how it is. It’s not fun all the time, but it’s something you have to be good at."

This year’s games will not be robot vs. robot, as they were last year when Waialua competed for the first time.

The competition’s 52 schools will form four-team alliances and be given two minutes on a court to score in several ways. The four robots will cross a "bridge" to the other side, for example, drop balls into goals or place the goals onto the bridge.

The problem with the bridge, said Nishimura, is that pushing down on one end raises the other.

To cross, the robots must work together, so there must be communication among alliance members.

"This year is way more difficult," said Nishimura. "This year you’re trying to cooperate. It’s trying to show students what it’s like in the real world.

Dean Kamen, the founder of the competition, said, "You don’t find a cure for diabetes by blowing up all the insulin plants. You have to work together and come up with a solution."

Second-year competitor Sheri Aplaca said she is looking forward to the coming weeks.

Last year seemed grueling, but the work and trip were memorable, she said.

Although she likes science, she is more interested in media and plans to study journalism in college.

The robotics project has given her hands-on opportunities, she said.

"This year we’re going to put together a video, which we didn’t do last year as part of our documentation," said Aplaca. "We didn’t do very well in the competition, so we’re trying to broaden our horizons by doing videos."

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