Robo ready

LIHUE — As her robotics team’s machine clamps down on plastic totes and lifts them into the air, driver and engineer Elizabeth Makizuru can’t help but smile. She’s looking forward to driving the machine — and the Kauaibots — to victory.

“It’s so exciting,” Makizuru said. “It’s (robotics) so much fun and there’s so much that you can learn, and it’s so useful in the future and in school.”

Members of Kauai’s only F.I.R.S.T — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — robotics team, will travel to Oahu Thursday to compete in the 2015 Hawaii Regional for F.I.R.S.T Robotics Competition at the Stan Sheriff Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu.

It will feature different team robots stacking plastic totes within a certain time to earn points.

The competition will not only have the robots challenging each other, but will also require their operating teams to work together.

At the end of the competition on Saturday, one of the alliance groups will be chosen as the winner and will travel to St. Louis to participate in the 2015 F.I.R.S.T Championship April 22-25.

The Kauai team practices daily with other drivers who help control the practice robot, known as “Thunder Chicken,” which has a forklift design and can lift up to 30 pounds.

“We really want to practice and simulate what an actual competition will be like,” Makizuru said. “Sometimes we leave totes laying around and stuff like, ‘OK this is a robot here, so you can’t cross here’ or ‘There’s noodles here, so you can’t go over there.’”

Makizuru and the second driver, Island School senior David Harris, control the robot by using a switchboard and a joystick to move the machine’s wheels, arms and other mechanical parts.

“I’m very excited,” Harris said. “I’ve always driven robots, it’s always been super fun for me.”

The driving team also includes secondary drivers and Kauai High School sophomores, Tyres Caberto and Nygel Melchor, who load the crates into the robot through a chute and are responsible for throwing the litter into the opponent’s court.

The driving team is under the instruction of Logan Alcott, 26, who said he’s proud of the members and is looking forward to watching their skills in the competition.

“I’m really excited about it,” said Alcott, who has been a driving mentor since 2010. “We’ve got two really good drivers and we have two secondary drivers who have gotten a decadent amount of experience. If we need them, they’re ready.”

Alcott is responsible for making sure that the drivers are comfortable with the robot, have enough practice with the device and offers them advice during the matches.

“We’ve already gone to a competition once this year and we’re in the best position we’ve ever been in,” Alcott said.

This tournament will be the team’s first time participating in two regionals as the Kauaibots. They recently returned from another tournament at Madera South High School in Madera, California.

Lead mentor of the Kauaibots, James C. Massaro, can’t wait to see his team in action again.

“It feels great because years ago, we were told that we could only go to one regional and we were told by numerous teams that the best way to get better as a team is to go to more than one regional,” Massaro said.

The robotics groups also consist of the software, mechanical, electrical, scouting, computer and design, outreach, fundraising and chairman’s teams.

Each team had only six weeks to design and create their robots.

“We had a big countdown, so it was nerve-racking because we had to get this done in such a little time, especially since we went to the California Regional,” Makizuru said. “It was a lot less time from the year beforehand and we did really amazing.”

The team currently brings high school students from across the island into one group and isn’t just about creating robots.

“Robotics is important in this day and age for a bunch of reasons,” Massaro said. “It exposes students to what high tech careers are like because they work side by side with engineers, they work side by side with software specialists, and maybe electronic specialists.”

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