CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
The inner workings of a robot built by the McKinley High School robotics team are revealed. McKinley is one of the top contenders internationally in high school robotics competitions.
Robots rule isle contest
The battlefield: The Stan Sheriff Center. The participants: 36 high school teams, 24 from local schools and 12 from as far away as New Jersey and Florida. The game: FIRST Overdrive. The players: Robots!
Place: Stan Sheriff Center, University of Hawaii-Manoa
Time: 9:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Well, nothing too fancy in terms of the mechanical thingamajigs -- we're talking purely functional. First in play will be hybrids programmed to knock 40-inch trackballs off an overpass. Then tele-operated 'bots will try to pick up the big balls and either hurdle or replace them on the overpass to score as many points as possible within two minutes.
The question is: Can Tiger Power triumph once again? McKinley High School's Team Kika Maka returned earlier this month as co-champions of the Portland, Ore., regional robotics competition, sponsored by NASA and BAE Systems. They're already assured a spot in the world finals in Atlanta April 17 to 19, as one of 300 teams going to battle in the Georgia Dome.
Adviser and school registrar Osa Tui is justifiably proud of the student team, comprised mainly of sophomores. But despite a $10,000 donation from sponsor Hawaiian Electric, he said, it's going to take more huli-huli chicken sales and car washes to defray the costs of sending the team's core group to the world championship.
Still, to have students do well in a sport-like competition that combines "the practical application of math and science" is, as the commercial says, priceless.
This weekend's competition -- one of 41 regionals under way worldwide since late February -- will be the first for the islands.
Local lead teams from such schools as Waialua High, Waiakea High and Sacred Hearts Academy will join other school teams from around the state and the mainland in battle, as they joust for control of giant red and blue balls.
THE FIRST Robotics Competition has come a long way since its inception eight years ago. (FIRST is an acronym for "For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.") What began as strictly a Northeastern U.S. contest has grown exponentially to include thousands of teams.
(As a point of reference, the McKinley team came in second out of 43 teams in the 2000 Western regional in San Jose.)
After this year's game was announced in January by a committee that includes Segway inventor Dean Kamen and Massachusetts Institute of Technology mechanical engineering professor emeritus Woodie Flowers, teams had an intense six-week period to create their robots, starting from a standard parts kit of motors and controls. The McKinley team was broken into four groups: inventor and mechanical teams that created three-dimensional sketches and designs to fabricate the robot; an electrical team to wire, program and control the robot; and a media team responsible for graphics and documentation.
"When we competed in the Portland regional," Tui said, "we had to stop building by Feb. 19 in order for us to ship the robot there. We could only tweak the programming during the crunch time period we had here and later at the regional."
And coming out on top, while it feels great, isn't everything in robotics. Part of the sport's credo is cooperation among teams and deporting yourselves with "gracious professionalism" (what Tui calls a translation of the aloha spirit). Three-team alliances face off during the bracketed competition, going the best two-out-of-three, with the top alliances moving on throughout the contest.
"The robotics competition reasserts creativity and instruction of students in the engineering, science and technology fields," said chief engineering mentor Alan Ing of Hawaiian Electric. "Since we usually get our idols from sports and entertainment, we thought science can be just as fun in a sports environment."
Science fair to showcase NOAA robot
A more sophisticated robot will be in action during the 51st Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair next Wednesday.
Terri the robot, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, can tell stories, perform skits, and speak and sing with people.
Along with Terri, more than 348 student science research projects will be on display at the Blaisdell Center Exhibition Hall 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, investigating such intriguing questions as "Mouth to Mouth: Who Has a Cleaner Mouth, You or Your Doggie?" and "Put More Zing in Your Tennis String: Which Tennis String Generates Greater Speed?"
Admission is free.
Winners will compete at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Atlanta, May 11-17.
And in related news, Moanalua High School's Robotics Club will have a "FUNvention" from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. April 5 at the school, with free workshops and activities.