Categorized | Education, Featured

TMT powers up student robotics team

(Photo courtesy TMT)


Although known for spectacular natural beauty, the state of Hawaii is also home to a host of impressive and successful student robotics programs.

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) Project is sponsoring several of these robotics clubs with the goal of encouraging fun and learning today that can translate into careers in science and technology tomorrow.

TMT’s outreach effort, which began over two years ago, has already had a galvanizing effect on students across the state, according to teachers and organizers.

Along with support from other sponsoring associations, student robotics in Hawaii is reaching new heights, and looks set to keep expanding and inspiring in the years ahead.

Four high schools on the Big Island have received more than $100,000 from the TMT Project to date – Hilo High School, Kealakehe High School, Kohala High School and Waiakea High School – as well as Earl’s Garage, a community-based, science-and-technology extracurricular organization in Waimea.

Two big international robotics contests in April highlight how TMT’s support has played a major part in advancing program goals.

Three of the four sponsored high school teams built robots that qualified for and competed at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) World Championship, held in Missouri, as well as the VEX Robotics World Championship at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

The competitions attracted thousands of students and teachers from all 50 states and dozens of countries.

Even though they had never competed at FIRST or VEX before, the Kealakehe rookie RoboRiders roared out of the regional gates to qualify for both international competitions. With financial support from TMT, Kealakehe plans to host a VEX tournament of its own in September on the west side of the Big Island.

“With the TMT funds, not only have they definitely improved our school education, but they are helping us branch out into the community,” said Justin Brown, robotics coordinator and team coach at Kealakehe.

Kohala’s team, Na Paniolo, had a great run themselves at this year’s VEX championship. The team barely missed making the semifinals after earning the top rank in their division over 104 other teams.

For a small school located in a rural part of the Big Island, the robotics team’s success has been very rewarding, program director Fern White said.

“All of this is really making a difference in my students’ lives,” White said.

The team from Waiakea, named Warrior Pride, placed highly at both major tournaments as well. Before heading to the mainland U.S. for the contests, the school’s team won the Engineering Inspiration Award at FIRST during regionals on Oahu, plus the Excellence Award – twice – at two late 2010 VEX tournaments, signifying Waiakea’s success and promotion of engineering.

“The award is given to teams who demonstrate that their program has had an impact on the community, which ours definitely has,” says Dale Olive, robotics coordinator at Waiakea.

Waiakea, along with Kohala, also has had the distinction of being the only United States secondary schools so far to participate in the International Micro Robot Maze Contest, the 19th annual event last fall at Nagoya University in Japan. TMT’s funding enabled the Kohala team to go in 2010.

“The Japan experience was key to the growth of our team and to our success at the VEX World Championship,” said Kohala’s White.

The Hilo High School Vikings Robotics Club, meanwhile, after a few quiet years is getting back on track. The team competed in regionals in Oahu for both VEX and FIRST, entering the latter competition for the first time in four years.

TMT funding is helping shore up the team’s finances, and that bodes well for students down the road.

“Robotics is about more than simply building some cool piece of technology; it is about developing skills that can be used in every facet of life,” said former team president Noa Flaherty, who plans ot attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall. “We have seen our students transform from being shy into leaders who have superb communication and problem-solving skills.”

This sort of inspiration is the ultimate goal of TMT’s outreach, and the students’ hands-on experience in technical fields will prove valuable down the road.

“These robotics competitions are great preparation for people to work in high-tech jobs such as those that the Thirty Meter Telescope will bring to the region,” said Sandra Dawson, manager for Hawaii community relations for TMT.

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will take us on an exciting journey of discovery, exploring the origin of galaxies, revealing the birth and death of stars and uncover previously hidden details of our universe.

From Galileo’s first discovery to the launch of the Hubble telescope, new technologies have paved the way to new knowledge. TMT will carry on this legacy of discovery as astronomy’s next generation telescope.

First light is anticipated for 2019, when the Thirty Meter Telescope will begin a new frontier of science and discovery, making TMT the most advanced, most capable telescope ever built. TMT will continue the work of the Mauna Kea observatories and will inspire generations of Hawaii’s keiki to reach for the stars.

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