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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Two Hawai'i teams head to robotics competition

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

Zachary Fischer, squatting near table, Keoni Hall, in white shirt, Jacob Pantastico, center back, Nathan Franco, second from right, and Trevor Johnson from Kailua will take part in an international ROV competition.

Photos by David Izumi

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Kailua's ROV, Mano Kihikihi, will be used in the underwater competition at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston Friday through Sunday.

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The mission is extremely challenging, the competition stiff and the learning experience priceless.

Kailua and Konawaena high schools are among 41 teams in an international field of middle, high, home and after-school groups, community colleges and universities from 11 American states, Canada and Hong Kong entered in an underwater remote operated vehicle, or ROV, challenge Friday through Sunday in Houston at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

The mission for the fifth annual International Student ROV Competition, sponsored by Marine Advanced Technology Education and funded by the National Science Foundation, will center on ocean observing systems.

There will be mockups of the space shuttle and international space station on the bottom of the 6.2-million-gallon, 40-foot- deep astronaut training pool at the Sonny Carter Training Facility/Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. Teams will be judged on their ability to complete the mission as well as communicating an understanding of their vehicle's design and construction in written reports, poster displays and engineering evaluation interviews.

Kailua's five-member Surfrider robotics team of Jacob Pantastico, Trevor Johnson, Zachary Fischer, Nathan Franco and Keoni Hall constructed an 18-pound ROV with a stainless steel frame named Mano Kihikihi, or hammerhead shark. Its mission will be to take an electronic module or hub weighing about 17 ounces to the bottom of the pool and place it in a small rectangular frame.

The ROV then has to open the door of the frame, grab and pull out a plug and connect it before releasing an antenna that will shoot to the surface signaling a completed mission.

Members of the Konawaena team are 2006 graduates Randy Yamauchi, 18, Andrew Kouchi, 18, Bryan Young, 17, and Joel Furuto, 17, as well as students Aaron Smith, 16, and Brandon Kunitake, 15. Craig Fuller, a science teacher at the school, is the ROV adviser.

Kailua and Konawaena introduced underwater ROV programs at their schools last fall.

"We wanted a challenge and enjoy building things," said Kouchi, the Konawaena captain who said the Wildcats' ROV named Zomgz Bill will be piloted by Yamauchi. "We'll do the best we can but it's going to be a good experience, especially for the young guys."

Each team at the international competition has 20 minutes to complete their missions, including five minutes for any corrections or repairs.

"On a small scale, it's like picking up a matchbox underwater with a long pole and placing it in another box a little bigger than the matchbox," said Kailua instructor David Izumi, who made two trips to the competition when he taught at Moanalua High School.

The Kailua team has practiced only in a 9-foot-deep pool.

Johnson, 17, will pilot the ROV while Pantastico, 16, will operate the pneumatic arm. Franco, 15, is in charge of communications, relaying signals between the pilot and crew. Hall, 16, is working the tether line and serving as chief mechanic, and Fischer, 17, a 2006 Kailua High grad who will be attending Windward Community College in the fall, is the captain.

Johnson said the team has made some adjustments to account for the water weight of the module. The ROV, he said, "is like a cat trying to piggyback a bigger dog while swimming across the river."

Izumi introduced underwater ROVs to Kailua High in the last school year and Fischer said it was a good experience.

"Instead of working on things, we were able to build something from the bottom up," Fischer said. "I just hope we do well and give a nice effort. If we can do that, then we did our job."

Added Izumi, "The goal is not to take first. Just making it to the Big Dance is a major accomplishment. There's so many things to learn there because going to NASA is an ultimate learning experience." Izumi said talking to other instructors and engineers and seeing what other competitors are doing spawn new ideas.

The competition includes Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California- Davis, Swarthmore College, and Johns Hopkins University in the Explorer Class. In the Ranger Class with the Hawai'i schools are Shau Kei Wan Government Secondary School from Hong Kong and six Canadian schools.

Reach Rod Ohira at rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.