VEX Robotics pan-pacific championship

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Maui High School senior Devin Tamashiro said it’s just a way to be sure he doesn’t forget what he’s learned in his programming class.

But it’s also a lesson in teamwork, design, engineering and coordination among students with different skill sets to represent their school in an international competition that could take them to a world championship in Dallas in April.

As with most competitions, success can come just from competing well even if you don’t win because the process of learning is its own reward. But there’s also a goal of winning.

“The motivation I have for this is I try very hard to program the best that I can, to see if I can beat my rival,” Tamashiro said.

He’s part of a 14-student team from Maui High that will be in the VEX Robotics Pan-Pacific Championship event being held this week at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu. According to an announcement from the state, more than 800 students from around Hawaii, the Mainland, China and Japan are entered in the Honolulu competition, vying to be among 10 teams to advance to the VEX Robotics World Championship April 30 to May 2.

A demonstration of the work by the Maui students was given earlier this year as part of the 86th Maui County Fair. The competition has student teams designing, building and programming robotic devices that “play” a kind of robotic basketball, a game called Elevation.

Along with the Maui High team advised by veteran science teacher Keith Imada, teams from King Kekaulike High, Lahainaluana High and Iao Intermediate schools are entered in this week’s Pan-Pacific Championship round.

At Lahainaluna, the Lunatechs Robotic Club is a new program with advisers Colin Delos Reyes and Graham Seiki.

“We started his year. We met and said we wanted to start this club, and two and a half weeks before the fair, we got the kits,” said Delos Reyes. “The kids pretty much did a rush job to get it together for the fair and since then they’ve been working hard on improving their design.”

The kits are the materials needed to build a robot that can compete in Elevation. Delos Reyes said the Lahainaluna students received a donation of several of the basic kits and were able to take pieces from different kits to eventually build two robot models.

“They’ve come up with two robots, cannibalized some of the kits to make better robots. It’s not a case where you can only use one kit, so they took them apart and designed a better robot,” he said.

Jayne Hori, Iao Intermediate librarian and adviser to the Iao robotics team, said the program requires the students to design a robot to accomplish a specific task. The competition requires a certain amount of programing for the robot to perform independently, but then provides for a remote controller to run the robot through the competition.

“VEX is very different because you have alliances. . . . You’re working with another team selected randomly, so you’re allied with another team. With an alliance, there are four robots in the arena and the task in Elevation is to collect as many of the 3-by-3-by-3 squares and place them into a column to score.”

VEX Robotics Competition is one of several student programs set up by to encourage technology-based programs in schools through competitions. It is sponsored by two technology-education organizations, Autodesk and Innovation First Inc., which provide curriculum, materials and kits to support science, engineering and technology in the schools.

In addition to VEX, sponsors the Botball program and various workshops and directed technology education events supported by local government or school districts.

RobotEvents is among several technology education programs supporting competitions like VEX and Botball. Hori said the Iao VEX team has six boys.

She’s tried to encourage girls to participate but said a similar 4-H program in science and technology education is drawing the girls.

At Maui High, Imada said, the school’s science and technology students have been involved in a number of similar programs for the past six to seven years, including Botball and a Lego-based robotic design program.

In previous years, the Maui High science and technology program had a relationship with Maui Waena Intermediate School, with the older students mentoring the younger ones. Several sophomores in this year’s program were working with Maui High’s robotics team when they were 8th-graders, Imada said.

“We try to get the kids involved not just in the learning part, but in teaching and giving back, and helping other students,” he said.

Delos Reyes said there was high interest in the robotics club when it was first announced at the beginning of the school year, with 60 students signing up.

“We had to limit it because of the amount of equipment we had,” he said. “So I had them have to write an essay to explain why they wanted to participate. I figured if they really wanted to be involved, they would do it.”

The Lunatechs Robotics Club has 15 members, with 10 able to go to the Pan-Pacific Competition that starts Thursday.

Maui High’s 14-student team includes four girls. Tamashiro said many of his teammates are new to the robotics program, but there are a number of experienced competitors, including himself.

“I took a class last year at Maui High and I sort of helped out with the Botball, the first robotics competition. When I got through the programming class I took last year, I was asked if I wanted to get involved,” he said.

“I just wanted to make sure I don’t forget what I learned.”

While he’s handling the required programming for the robot’s autonomous movements, other teammates are designing and building the device that will be in the competition, Tamashiro said.

“It’s decided by the team whoever is going to drive,” he said. “It’s really fun. And it’s really learning more about programming.”

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