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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 26, 2010

Ka'ū team uploads optimism into robot

By Rob Perez
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Robots from the McMain Hurricanes of Louisiana, Maui High School and Honoka‘a High School compete in a practice run of “Breakaway” at the Stan Sheriff Center.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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What: 2010 BAE Systems FIRST in Hawai'i Regional Robotics Competition

When: 8 a.m. to noon, 1 to 4:30 p.m. today; 8 a.m. to noon, 1 to 5 p.m. tomorrow

Where: University of Hawai'i-Manoa's Stan Sheriff Center

Cost: Free

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Never mind that they belong to the only rookie team in the competition and comprise one of the smallest groups as well.

Never mind that they have only two mentors, while other teams have five, six, seven times more and counting.

Never mind that as of noon yesterday they still were unable to get their robot working for the first time and had less than 24 hours before the matches were to begin.

These nine Ka'ū High School students, like the nearly 1,000 others from Hawai'i and the Mainland expected to participate in today's start of a regional robotics competition, were jazzed just to be at the event and believe they will perform well, despite the obstacles.

"We're going to do awesome," predicted junior Nathan Lovett, 16, as teams from 27 other schools were working furiously yesterday on last-minute tune-ups to their machines at the University of Hawai'i's Stan Sheriff Center.

The students, some coming from Alaska, Louisiana and New Jersey, are gathering today and tomorrow at the UH arena for the 2010 BAE Systems FIRST in Hawai'i Regional Robotics Competition. The top performers go on to the world championships in Atlanta next month.

As a first-time participant, Ka'ū faces steep odds to get to Atlanta.

They faced steep odds just to get to Mānoa.

When the call went out for members to join the Big Island school's first robotics team, 11 of Ka'ū's roughly 250 students responded. Nine of the 11 were able to make the trip to Mānoa, plus their two mentors, science teacher Ted Brattstrom and registrar Steve Stephenson.

By contrast, a team from Kaua'i — the Kauaibots — came with 41 of its 48 students and 15 of 39 mentors.

Just getting parts was a challenge for the rural Ka'ū team.

The campus, in a region dominated by agriculture interests, is so remote that students had to drive an hour to get to the nearest hardware store 50 miles away in Hilo to shop for supplies.

"It's been really fun but really hectic," said Leilani Desmond, 14, a Ka'ū 9th-grader and the team's go-to computer expert. She said she started playing with Lego robotics in the sixth grade and wants to be an engineer.


The Hawai'i regional is held annually to showcase top robotics talent from local schools and to get students excited about applying science, technology, engineering and math. It teaches them about teamwork, problem solving and to think analytically.

The matches will pit a group of three teams, called an alliance, against another three-team alliance in what basically is a form of robot soccer. The students will remotely control their robots, with the aim of pushing, kicking or shooting as many soccer balls as possible into goals.

For a six-week period, the students worked on their robots, meeting as often as they wanted or were able to. Parents and others provided volunteer help, and all teams had to work under the same set of parameters, including a $3,500 cap on what could be spent on parts.

As many as six Hawai'i teams can qualify for the Atlanta competition based on the two days of matches at UH. Two schools, Waialua High & Intermediate and Sacred Hearts Academy, already have earned spots in the championship by virtue of past performances.

Waialua won a regional competition in Arizona several weeks ago, while Sacred Hearts got a bid based on its showing at a regional event last year.

As the teams hurried yesterday to make last-minute repairs, many students and mentors from competing teams offered to help the Ka'ū rookies figure out why their robot wasn't working.

By 4 p.m., Stephenson, crediting that cooperative spirit, called a reporter with the good news: "It's up and running."