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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, July 22, 2004

'Ohana Komputer team taking robot to national competition

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Education Writer

Every day for almost two weeks, a group of students has gathered at Our Redeemer Elementary School to try to get a robot built of Legos to drop a foam ball into a plastic basket.

They are programming a second robot to find and stack yellow plastic cups, while avoiding the blue ones.

After today, they have three days to get it right before they head to the National Botball Competition in San Jose, Calif., where they will compete with 46 middle school and high school teams from across the nation.

The 'Ohana Komputer team has competed only once before, when they placed in the middle of a field of 23 Hawai'i teams at the regional competition in March. Although all 23 teams were eligible to compete at the national level, 'Ohana Komputer is the only Hawai'i team that will travel to San Jose, team advisers said.

'Ohana Komputer, a nonprofit that offers after-school programs and trains disadvantaged students in technology, got involved in Botball this year as a way to get kids excited about math and science.

Executive Director Gigi Davidson said the five-member team has learned a lot since the regional competition.

"The kids didn't really know what to expect until we got there, but once we got there, their interest was really sparked and they got into it," she said. "This time around they knew what to expect, and their bots are a lot better and more sophisticated than they were the first time around."

That's good because once the competition starts, the students will be on their own.

"It challenges the students in a way they don't often get challenged," said Robert Holsen, director of school programs for

'Ohana Komputer. "It's all up to them to decide which strategies work for them and how to implement those strategies."

The students, age 12 to 15, said the preparations have been both fun and frustrating.

For example, Mano DeLude, 12, a student at Our Redeemer, said he enjoyed programming the robots in the C language, but it can get a little nerve-wracking "when everyone is yelling at you."

Patrick Miki, 12, of Hongwanji Mission School, has been taking computer classes from 'Ohana Komputer for three years and has enjoyed building the robots. The aspiring inventor said he has enjoyed contributing his ideas.

Halau Ku Mana students Alan Mata and Tiana Mata-Aina travel from 'Ewa Beach to Manoa to participate on the team. Mata-Aina, 14, records the team's progress with a digital camera and has been putting together the display for the competition.

Running the robot through dozens of attempts to make a basket, Mata, 13, said for him the high points have been building the robot and "fooling with it to make sure it works."

Lorien Pelletier, 12, of Our Redeemer, is the other team member.

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8014.