CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Elementary, middle and high school students showcased their technical expertise yesterday at the Hawaii State Robotics Exhibition at the state Capitol. Here, Jake Morisato, from Mid-Pacific Institute, reached out to "Rambot," a robot from Radford High School.
Robotics students flex their chips
Officials stress the event's significance for Hawaii's future
Student innovation filled the state Capitol courtyard yesterday as student teams from more than 20 Hawaii schools showed off their robots.
The robots performed such feats as lifting balls onto a platform about 6 feet high and knocking them off again. They also did laps around the courtyard, explored underwater and raced.
"I thought it was phenomenal. ... I've never seen so many types of robots in one exhibition," said Mimi Hang, an 18-year-old member of McKinley High School's robotics team and recent graduate.
A crowd of around 500 including government officials, military, business and community leaders gathered to watch the demonstrations from six major types of robotics programs, including FIRST Robotics, FIRST LEGO League, Botball, Underwater Remote Operating Vehicle, VEX Robotics and Micro Robotics.
'Iolani School sophomore Sean Cockey, 16, said, "It's really fun to see how creative you can be." After participating in the robotics program, he is "strongly considering" moving into engineering in college, as "it's really important for our future to get more engineers," he said.
Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona told the crowd that robotics programs are important to keep the United States from falling behind China and India, which graduate increasingly large numbers of engineers.
Gov. Linda Lingle said the robotics programs can help expand the state's potentially lucrative high-tech and intellectual-property sector of the economy. "To be reliant on one sector of the economy is not so good," she said, referring to Hawaii's dependence on tourism.
The strongest praise for Hawaii's school robotics programs was from NASA Robotics Project Manager Mark Leon, who is planning to use Hawaii's robotics students to help in construction of a $500,000 micro-rover to be sent to the moon in 2012. "These are the brightest engineers I've worked with in my life," he said.
Hawaiian Electric Co. President Mike May said the problem-solving skills learned by students will greatly help HECO's employment prospects. "It teaches the kids teamwork. ... These kids have to find a creative way to solve a problem. They give them components (to build a robot); they have to come up with a solution," he said.