PUHI — It kicks, it defends, it climbs, it turns. The durable robotic soccer player does almost everything a human soccer player does, said James Massaro of Island School, the adviser for the Kaua‘i FIRST Robotics program.
Gov. Linda Lingle on Monday authorized the use of $2.81 million in federal stimulus funds to enhance robotics education programs in Hawai‘i’s schools.
The announcement was included in her State of the State address (see A5 for related story). She said the money goes to the University of Hawai‘i College of Engineering which will disburse the funds to the Friends of Hawai‘i Robotics, a nonprofit formed for the purpose of supporting the Robotics Organizing Committee and robotics educational programming in the state.
The Kaua‘i team for FIRST Robotics is well underway with its robot for the 2010 competition which will take place March 25-27 at the Stan Sheriff Center on the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa campus.
“We’re 10 days into the 42 days build period, and the team is definitely ahead of where we were last year,” Masarro told a gathering of Island School dignitaries and Young Brothers Community Advisory Board members during a short demonstration of the robot’s progress, Thursday.
Young Brothers CAB provided a grant to the program on the same day as the national kickoff.
“It’s that exciting time of year when we finally come together to kickoff the 2010 FIRST Robotics season for our Kaua‘i Island FIRST Robotics team,” said Charlene Steuri, whose children are part of the team. “The team is comprised of students from four high schools on Kaua‘i.”
Masarro said the budget for FIRST Robotics got cut, but the group got bigger.
“We have a new shop we are working in through the collaborative efforts of the Island School Maintenance Dept., and our group has grown to more than 40 students, up from 30 last year,” Masarro said. “We have eight or nine students from Kaua‘i High School, up from four last year, three from Kapa‘a High School, three from Waimea High School, and about 25 students from Island School.”
Team mentors are from the Pacific Missile Range Facility and Oceanit, Masarro said.
This year’s competition is called “Breakaway.” The announcement was made to an estimated audience of 50,000 viewers around the world via live NASA-TV broadcast feed and Webcast. The headquarters is in New Hampshire.
“FIRST is about giving kids the opportunity to build skill sets like analytical thinking to then develop what they may or may not use to build a robot; but they might use these skills to become a scientist, engineer or inventor,” said Dean Kamen, FIRST Founder while explaining how what students learn from FIRST is very different from other sports. “Ten years from today, one of these students is going to be out in the world having done something extraordinary for a major global problem.”
Masarro agreed, pointing out the temporary windscreen at the work site was designed and built by the FIRST Robotics team.
“They used skills in science and math to build the shield,” Masarro said. “They come up with new ideas and try it out. This is so hard to teach to students today.”
The grant money, $1.1 million this year and $1.71 million next fiscal year, is designed to help foster robotics education and expand students’ learning of science, technology, engineering and math throughout their schooling while preparing them for careers in the global economy, Lingle said in a release.
“While we work to develop an innovation economy with high-technology careers based in Hawai‘i, we must also ensure our state’s workforce is ready for the future opportunities,” she said.
Recognizing the importance of promoting robotics at an early age and sustaining students’ interest in STEM education through their schooling, the six robotics programs which previously operated autonomously earlier this year joined together to form the Hawai‘i ROC. This is the first time all six of the robotics programs, geared for the different school levels, have coordinated their efforts to promote robotics education in elementary, middle and high schools statewide, according to the ROC release.
The six programs include FIRST Robotics, FIRST Lego League, Botball, VEX, Underwater Remote Operating Vehicle and Micro Robotics.
Masarro pointed out to Young Brothers CAB members how the concept and wheels of the robotic soccer player came from the shipping industry.
This year’s vehicle should be capable of shooting a soccer ball, defending and perform a number of maneuvers demonstrating its versatility.
During this year’s competition, two alliances of three teams will compete on a 27-by-54-foot field with bumps, attempting to earn points by collecting soccer balls in goals. Additional bonus points will be earned for each robot suspending in air and not touching the field at the end of the match.
“Last year, our robot was overweight,” Masarro said. “Despite that setback, we did win the Judges' Award which is about the team and community service.”
Masarro said one of the first things the team did with the YB grant was purchase a precision scale which will eliminate the problem of weight it encountered last year.
“We can weigh each wheel down to the hundredths of a pound,” Masarro said.
The stimulus funds will be used to purchase robotics kids and curriculum packages for schools, provide teacher workshops and professional development training as well as cover operating costs of competitive robotics events which take place throughout the year.
“The robotics programs are truly effective in engaging our youth — our future — in the excitement and wonder of science, technology, engineering and math,” said Virginia Hinshaw, the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa chancellor. “All of the partners, certainly including highly committed teachers, sponsors, mentors and volunteers, contribute to the success of these programs and such efforts have a positive impact on Hawai‘i’s future. UH-Manoa is also definitely excited about having the participants as our students in the future.”
Over the past three years, student participation in robotics education has grown to 182 public, charter and private schools have robotics teams in one or more of the six robotics programs. This accounts for 47 percent of Hawai‘i’s schools.
The $2.8 million funding is being made available to the state under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, Part B as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that was passed by Congress last February.