Island well represented at robotics competition


Hilo, Kealakehe and Konawaena high schools and West Hawaii Explorations Academy all participated in the For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology in Hawaii Robotics Regional Competition, held at the Stan Sheriff Center from March 27 to 29.

Students designed, built and programmed their 100-pound robots over a six-week period in order to compete in this year’s game, Aerial Assist. This basketball-like game requires the robots to handle 2-foot diameter exercise balls, prompting students to build mechanisms that can pick up and shoot these balls over a 6-foot high truss and into 7-foot high goals. Games are played by two alliances with three robots on each alliance. Passing between the teams is also rewarded through additional points. The overall competition is like a professional sporting event with announcers, loud music and an air of drama and suspense.

Aside from the four Hawaii Island teams, 35 other teams were able to meet this year’s challenge. These teams included five from Australia, one from Taiwan, one from Singapore, two from China and one from New Jersey. Others hail from Maui and Kauai, and most call Oahu home.

All teams spend one and a half days competing in qualification matches, watching their teams bounce up and down in rankings as they triumph and meet defeat. After each team plays 12 matches, the top eight pick their two team allies to join them in the elimination rounds. The standard 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5 matchups take place in the semifinal round.

WHEA finished qualifications with an 11th place ranking. Kealakehe was 18th, Hilo was 19th and Konawaena was 29th.

Hilo won a Judges’ Award, highlighting its program’s accomplishments. Kealakehe won the Engineering Inspiration Award, recognizing its outreach and community impact. This award qualified them to attend the World Championship in St. Louis. Kealakehe’s Amy Lowe was named one of two dean’s list finalists as a student leader; she will compete against finalists from other regional competitions in St. Louis.

The team from WHEA, which makes up about 20 percent of the student body, had competed in another FIRST regional competition in San Diego earlier in March. In that competition, WHEA also made it to the semifinal round from a larger field of 60 teams.

“We were so fortunate to be able to attend the San Diego Regional this year,” said Lina Mochizuki, WHEA senior and student project manager. “It was an excellent preparation for the Honolulu competition, as it allowed us to iron out the kinks in our robot and improve our teamwork.”