2 Maui teams qualify for VEX world championships

A Maui High School robotics team had its dreams of qualifying for world competition come down to one last challenge during last weekends’ Hawaii VEX Robotics Championship on Oahu.

The team of seven students needed a score of about 40 points in an autonomous robot challenge to ensure themselves a spot in the event. After scoring only two points in the first round, it appeared they might come up short of that goal.

“It can be buggy sometimes,” team captain Christian Guzman said of the team’s robot. “But luckily, it ended up working.”

The team wound up scoring 46 points on the second of three tries and was named one of two Maui teams to qualify for the competition to be held April 23 to 26 in Anaheim, Calif.

Guzman’s team includes students Michelle Suyama, Brendan Baker, Denmark Taroma, Julie Nguyen, Braiden Paa and Erik Orquia.

Baldwin High School juniors Blayde Calaro and Layke Yamauchi from Aloha Robotics formed the other Maui team to qualify after placing seventh overall and scoring 67 points in the robot skills challenge. A total of 19 teams from across the state qualified for the world championships.

The two-day statewide competition on Friday and Saturday revolved around the game “Toss Up,” which challenged teams to build a robot that could place balls of different sizes in designated zones.

Forty teams competed in the round-robin style tournament, which randomly placed them in alliances to compete against other teams. The teams to make it to the finals automatically qualified for world championships.

Maui High’s team, which finished outside the top 10 in the tournament, got its opportunity to qualify through a programming skills challenge.

The team’s robot, which operated autonomously, had one minute to score as many “BuckyBalls” inside a cylindrical column and knock down a larger ball perched overhead. The team also could get extra points if the robot could hook itself to a bar high above the playing area, while holding a large ball.

“I was proud of them because before they went out, Michelle (Suyama) said she had a number in mind of the maximum that they could score: 46,” Maui High School robotics co-adviser Keith Imada said. “It was kind of cool that they did it under pressure because they only get three chances.”

Suyama spent 48 hours programming her team’s robot and said it was “a lot of trial and error” to get it to function properly.

“It was definitely hard,” she said.

Their robot experienced issues in the first 15 seconds of qualifying matches – a problem that would crop up again in their final programming challenge.

“On our first round (our robot) didn’t hit the encoder count so it couldn’t continue with the rest of the code,” Suyama said of their two-point first round. “To prevent it from breaking we had to stop.

“We were a little worried on the second try but it did it all perfectly the way we wanted and we were like, ‘Ah yes.'”

Although the team members were proud of their accomplishment, they said that their eyes are on the prestigious FIRST Robotics Competition, where robots weighing up to 120 pounds clash on a field the size of a basketball court.

The team hopes to qualify for the competition’s world championships through regional matches in California and Hawaii in March.

If they do qualify, Imada said, the two world championships overlap and the team will most likely skip the VEX competition.

Guzman said that he is trying enjoy the rest of the holiday season and not think too much about the FIRST competition.

“I’m trying to relax now, but once January 4th kicks off, it’s FRC time,” he said.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.