Island School robotics team preps for competition

LIHUE — Working in unison while taking apart last year’s robot isn’t a problem for Island School’s robotics team.

After all, the seven students that were cutting wires and dismantling the robot Tuesday have been on the same team since the fourth grade.

“I first heard about robotics when I was in fourth grade at Koloa Elementary, which is where we all went to,” said Elizabeth Makizuru, senior at Kauai High School. “It was just getting started up and our teacher at the time was the advisor for it, and he would tell us about it and it sounded really cool so I tried it out, and it was really fun.”

Makizuru and her classmates are on Island School’s robotics team, which is the only competing school that allows other schools in the district onto the team.

As James Massaro, retired teacher and self-proclaimed “fearless leader” of the robotics team said, it’s like Little League.

“We have students from all around the district. All the schools are supportive of it,” Massaro said.

The new robotics season, KauaiBots as it’s called, kicked off on Saturday. Thirty students will build a 120-pound robot over the next six weeks, reusing parts from last year’s model.

“It’s a little sad to see last year’s robot go, but we do it every year. The parts are too expensive to buy new ones,” Massaro said.

This year’s competition has the robot shoot Wiffle balls into a seven-foot goal, put Wiffle balls in a goal a foot off the ground, climb a four-foot rope and then navigate back down the rope.

While it is a huge challenge, it doesn’t hurt that the team has returning members from last.

“If you watch, they work together seamlessly,” Massaro said. “They’re not arguing over turf, they just work at it. They’re getting it done and having fun.”

In the world of engineering and programming, the students know when to work and when to have fun, particularly at the expense of each other.

“We’ve been working together for awhile,” Makizuru said “I’ve had to deal with these guys for a long time now. It’s not like bad arguments, it’s playful. I don’t actually hate them, they’re just annoying sometimes.”

Hearing Makizuru’s remark, fellow team member Tyres Caberto replied “It goes both ways, Elizabeth”.

Caberto has had a passion for building things as far back as he can remember.

“My dad had a house and I helped him build it,” Caberto said. “Back in elementary school, I was in a robotics team called Lego Robotics and I helped build that. The love for engineering just progressed through high school, so it’s been pretty cool.”

Caberto and Makizuru have been learning about programming and engineering through robotics, which are two aspects of learning that Massaro stresses can’t be taught in a normal classroom setting.

“The things that we’re teaching here, from 3-D printing, computer engineering, electronics, software and Java are not things that are taught in high school in a regular class,” Massaro said. “You can learn some of these things in college, but it’s stuff that’s out there in the workforce that people need to know.

The team will spend a week deconstructing last year’s design and then will spend five weeks building, programming and testing the robot.

Massaro said they have to finish building on Feb. 22 in preparations for a March tournament in San Diego, followed by the final competition on Oahu at the end of March.


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