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Thursday, April 6, 2000

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
McKinley High School students took second place out of
43 teams in the Regional Robotics 2000 Competition.
Surrounding their creation, they are, counter clockwise
from lower left: Elaine Owens, Milton Lau (teacher),
Melinda Lau (holding Tigger), Andrea Lee, Henry
Kusunoki (teacher), Enrique Che (mentor), Jesse
Chong, Mark Deblois, Roy Tom (mentor), Matthew
Chun, Alan Ing (mentor), Tom Battisto (mentor),
Rocky Villaruel (mentor) and Chris Orimoto.

McKinley shines
at Robotics

The isle students place
second out of 43 entries in
the California competition

By Lori Tighe


THEY didn't have the nicest robot, the most sponsorship money or experience.

But these McKinley High School students had three critical qualities: can-do, teamwork and aloha.

Just how critical would be learned by all: the Western region of American high schools; technology giants including NASA, General Motors and Intel, and the McKinley students themselves and their supporters.

To the McKinley students' surprise, not to mention their competitors', McKinley took second place among 43 schools at the Regional Robotics 2000 Competition.

"We're tremendously proud of these kids. They showed a lot of character and class," said Enrique Che, a Hawaiian Electric supervisor and mentor of the team.

The competition, which drew 3,000 people last weekend at San Jose State University, is designed to inspire student interest in science, engineering and technology.

"NASA, the competition's sponsor, believes these are the people who will go to Mars. There's no Home Depot on the way. They need to think on their feet," said Milton Lau, McKinley electronics shop teacher and team advisor.

A team of 12 students, four professional engineers, one machinist and five teachers designed the robot in six weeks. They cut it so close to deadline, the kids had only 20 minutes to practice using the controls. The adults had only seven minutes to fill out the Fed-Ex forms to ship it by deadline.

The robot couldn't weigh more than 130 pounds, but theirs weighed 6 pounds more. Some of the McKinley mentors stayed up till 3 a.m. drilling holes on the sides to cut the weight. They shipped it to California not knowing its weight, until competition time. The scales read 129-1/2 pounds.

Led by co-captains Elaine Owens and Chris Orimoto, both juniors, McKinley fought its way to third place in the semifinals on the first day.

The experience of playing Nintendo helped Orimoto and Owens when it came to operating the robot with the remote control joysticks. Owens controlled the 6-foot extension basket up and down, and Orimoto controlled the robot's movement on the floor.

The object was to make the robot scoop up rubber balls and drop them in a goal.

After the semifinals, the top eight teams could draft two teams each from among all competitors.

McKinley picked Hope Chapel Academy from Hermosa Beach, Calif., and as the alternate, they chose Waialua High School, the other Hawaii school that went to the competition and ranked 34th.

"No one told them to pick Waialua. They thought of Hawaii first, before themselves," said Alan Ing, a Heco electronic engineer who helped design the McKinley robot.

It took more than skill to beat opponents sponsored by companies such as General Motors who devote full-time engineers to build the robots.

It took strategy. The McKinley team studied their opponents and devised moves based on their strengths and weaknesses.

McKinley's partner robot from Hermosa Beach tipped over in one of the final competitions. Instead of giving up, McKinley's Nai'a rolled over, bent down and righted the fallen robot.

"The place went crazy," Lau said.

In the end, it came down to McKinley and Arizona's Kingman High School, sponsored by Ford.

Kingman won, but McKinley earned recognition as the underdog who came from the middle of the Pacific and stole the show.

But did the robotics competition succeed in scoring future engineers from McKinley students?

"Almost most definitely," a grinning Orimoto said. "Almost most definitely."

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