'Cool geeks' gearing for robotics contests


POSTED: Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Referring to themselves as “;cool geeks,”; Moanalua's Robotics Club members aren't ashamed of their intelligence. They are currently preparing for the FIRST Robotics competition, involving life-size robots, which will take place on March 26 to 28 at the Stan Sheriff Center. Preparation for their Botball robotic game competition has begun as well, which will occur on May 2.

“;Also, we've been in the middle of underwater robotics, a competition which will happen on May 17,”; said team adviser Bobby Widhalm. As if that wasn't enough, a team of Moanalua students will be heading off to Dallas in May to compete at the VEX World Championships after winning a local competition in November.

“;We were proud of ourselves and proud to represent our school by winning,”; said “;646b”; team leader senior Brennan Yamamoto.

Other members of the team include Daniel Hahn, Iris Hui, Ryan Inouye, Sarah Lee, Emily Leung, Michelle Leung, Jamie Ma, Stephen Nishihara and Sean Sayurin.

“;The teams had to come up with their own design (for the robot),”; Widhalm said. “;The matches were in a game format, and the highest-scoring teams were the winners.”;

Part of the students' challenge was the design of the competition, Widhalm said. A match consisted of an autonomous period in which the robot acted on its own, as well as a remote period in which the students controlled the robot using a joystick. The students had to write the computer programs for both conditions.

“;The process of building the robot in all took about three months,”; Yamamoto said.

The students spent nearly a hundred hours working after school and on weekends. Once, the students even stayed at school until 2:30 in the morning.

The knowledge needed to create these robots doesn't just appear in students' heads as they become members. Instead, it is a direct result of teamwork and effort. Learning through workshops set up by other teams or organizations — sometimes even directed by the club's more adept members — is a huge part of it. Experimentation and mentoring during the competition season also play a significant role.

Most of what students learn and use deal with two areas of technology. One is computer software — more specifically programming, computer-aided drafting, documentation (as in PowerPoint, Word, Photoshop and Publisher), video editing/rendering and Web site design. They also deal with hardware. This includes machining tools, hand tools, video cameras, digital cameras, motors, sensors, electronics, and mechanical systems such as gears, levers, pulleys and pneumatics — the study of air and other gases' mechanical properties.

As Robotics Club members grow older, what they learn as a “;cool geek”; will aid them as they continue their lives. “;Students get comfortable with 'tinkering' with technology, which will help them become lifelong learners of technology,”; Widhalm said. This skill is invaluable since all technology will continue to change.”;

“;Technology is only a small part of the learning that is applicable later in life,”; Widhalm added. Teamwork, communication, time management, problem solving, project development, creativity and leadership are real-world skills the students learn through this program, he said.