Molokai Middle School is developing pride in its robotics program and a reputation as a force in the youth robotics world in Hawaii.
The Molokai Middle School's Golden Eyes robotics team took the overall first place Champions Award at the Hawaii FIRST LEGO League Championship at the Neal Blaisdell Center on Oahu on Saturday.
In a sweep of the top spots in the state championship by Maui County, Carden Academy's Mindreapers took second place in the competition for 9- to 14-year-olds with more than 50 teams from around the state.
Molokai students Kaitlin DeRouin (from left), Erik Svetin, Caele Manley and Lily Jenkins work with their robot Golden Glory. “We gave our robot the name Golden Glory because glory means to honor, and it is always important to honor our senior citizens,” said DeRouin. The Molokai Middle School team captured first place in the Hawaii FIRST LEGO League Championship on Oahu on Saturday.
Ethan McGregor, team member for Carden Academy’s Mindreapers, practices with his team’s robot Old Man Jenkins. Carden Academy’s team finished second in the Hawaii FIRST LEGO League Championship at the Neal Blaisdell Center on Oahu on Saturday.
"Maui did fantastic," said Tammy Bexton, a volunteer coach for Carden.
Although FIRST LEGO League is about competing robots, winning the championship involved more than building the best robot. Teams were judged on core values and their project as well as robot design.
Bexton described the robot "missions" as more like a pass/fail grade. To be eligible for the Champions Award, teams had to score in the top 40 percent of competitors.
Each robot had three missions of 2 minutes each. The robots, which run autonomously by programming without a driver, were given tasks such as knocking down bowling pins and raising levers on weightlifting machines or TV video monitors.
Molokai was the last of the 52 teams to go on the field and finished in the top 12, said Heidi Jenkins, Molokai robotics coordinator. She added that contest organizers changed the scoring this year to make sure the champions were strong in all judging components, not just in robot performance. The emphasis on the "overall" body of work instead of just how the robot scored was a change that Jenkins welcomed.
The Molokai team name, playing off the James Bond movie "GoldenEye," also reflected its conceptual project - Golden Glasses. With this year's FIRST LEGO League theme being "Senior Solutions," the six-member Friendly Isle contingent researched and developed conceptual glasses using face-recognition software to help the elderly remember the people they see. Their designs called for a microcomputer attached to the glasses and a heads-up display in the eyewear that would show the name of the person and his or her relationship to that person.
The team cited Facebook tagging and Google Glasses to prove that their invention was possible, Jenkins said.
"The team researched the issue of memory loss associated with aging that may leave senior citizens feeling less connected and engaged with their family, friends and community," said Jenkins.
In honor of the kupuna, the team named its robot "Golden Glory."
"We gave our robot the name Golden Glory because glory means to honor, and it is always important to honor our senior citizens," said team member Kaitlin DeRouin, a 6th-grader.
The Molokai robot technicians and researchers have been to the state championships for the last five years and have captured some division titles along the way, but never the top prize, said Jenkins. And the Maui County champions were a little disappointed when an award they thought they might win went to another team.
"When that award came and passed . . . they didn't think they were going to do well," said Jenkins. "There was always the hope to win. . . . They were pretty humble. I don't think at that point they knew their name was going to be called."
But it was.
The victory means that the Molokai team has qualified for a national competition, likely the LegoLand California Invitational in Carlsbad in May, said Jenkins.
The team members included Erik Svetin and Lily Jenkins, 8th-graders, and Noah Keanini and Katy Domingo, 7th-graders, Molokai Middle; Caele Manley, 7th-grader, home-schooled; and DeRouin, Kaunakakai Elementary School.
David Gonzales was the team head coach. His assistants were Jennifer Whitted and Sarah Jenkins, a 10th-grader from Molokai High.
Jenkins attributed the team's success to the robotics experience of the team members, the emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) over the last several years in public schools on Molokai, the support of the community, and Maui Economic Development Board and 21st Century grants.
She noted that the first students in the robotics program that began five years ago are now in high school, which is offering its first electronic engineering class. There also is a full-time STEM teacher on staff.
Team members have put in 600 hours including weekends since August, which is a commendable commitment for the youths that would not have been possible without the support of families, Jenkins said.
"It definitely takes a village," said Jenkins. "Every single parent was supportive."
And so was the village, she said. The community is sharing in the achievement of the robotics team from Molokai. People are talking about their young robotics champions in town.
"It's definitely a point of pride for the school and island," said Jenkins. "There is a sense of pride. Hooo, our Molokai kids can."
There is that same kind of pride on the Pukalani campus of Carden Academy on Maui, which was making its second appearance at the state championship.
"It was very nerve-racking, but in the end it was a real accomplishment finishing second," said Mindreaper team member Louisa Buckingham, a 6th-grader.
The rest of her team included Cecilia Buckingham, Antonio Mason, Ethan McGregor, Ansel Newman, Finn Spencer, Jeffrey Spencer, Ryder Tremble, Daniella Wittenberg and Jacob Wittenberg.
The volunteer parent coaches were David McGregor, Bexton and Gloria Buckingham. They were assisted by volunteer parents David Wittenberg, Alice Tremble and Uli Montague.
The Mindreaper's robot was named Old Man Jenkins, after the elderly fish on the "SpongeBob SquarePants" cartoon, said Louisa Buckingham.
For its project, the team developed the Keiki Kupuna program that matched seniors with youths to create long-term relationships in the hopes of combatting loneliness, said Bexton. The students also helped seniors get acquainted to modern technology with the goal of giving seniors the skill to connect and reconnect with family and friends online.
The team worked with kupuna at Roselani Place in Kahului. The students even set up a website, keikikupuna.com.
"It was a unique thing for me," engaging with senior citizens, said Louisa Buckingham, whose grandparents live in California.
"I was kind of scared," she said in the beginning. "I was nervous talking to seniors."
That changed with more interaction.
"They are kind of like little children, talking to them," she said. "It was fun and funny."
The cost of two robots was paid by a grant from MEDB, which also lent the team a laptop. There also were fundraisers and some box top redemptions, said Bexton.
"I had a lot of fun," said Louisa Buckingham. "I want to do it again."
Seabury Hall Spartanbots placed first in the Strategy & Innovation Division. Kamehameha Schools Maui's Mechanical Menehunes also qualified for the state championships.
* Lee Imada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.