Hawaii High School Robotics Competition Kicks Off

More than meets the eye: Some of the best robots don’t look like much from the outside. They’re built to hide the mechanics of how they function, giving the robot an offensive advantage.

Photo: Courtesy Friends of Hawaii Robotics

Jan. 4 is Christmas morning for science geeks. Come 5:30 a.m. that Saturday, the McKinley High auditorium will be packed with more than 400 kids. Some of them will fly over from the Neighbor Islands; some opt to “camp” in the school overnight rather than face an alarm clock. The dress code? Team T-shirts, often paired with pajama bottoms. This will be Kalani senior ZJ Lin’s last year attending the Robotics Competition Kickoff. “You know you should be tired, but you’re too excited,” he says.

The students will assemble early, along with their coaches and volunteer mentors, to see this year’s game explained—NASA TV will provide a globally synchronized broadcast to prevent even a few hours’ worth of unfair advantage. From the morning of the kickoff, Hawaii’s 29 robotics teams will have six weeks to build a machine capable of playing the game at hand, usually a spin on a popular sport, like basketball or Frisbee. A typical week for a student engineer includes more than 20 hours in the shop, mostly after school and on weekends. Hawaii teams will reconvene in March at UH’s Stan Sheriff Center to test their robots’ mettle. They’ll be joined by schools from Asia and Australia.

The next stop for winning teams is the championship in St. Louis, an event that’s part sports game, part rock concert, part science camp. Last year, five teams from Hawaii won their way to the Mainland contest, with Waialua (team name: The Hawaiian Kids) advancing to the semifinals.

If you consider a plastic crate full of spare parts a present, which these highschoolers do, think about volunteering. “The league is always in need of more mentors,” says Lenny Klompus, CEO of Friends of HawaiiRobotics, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting robotics programs throughout the state.

Visit friendsofhawaiirobotics.org for ways to get involved this season.