Molokai youth have stars in their eyes this week as they wait to be interviewed in the final round of Moonbots 2.0, the second year of an international robot-building competition sponsored by Google, Lunar X Prize Foundation and LEGO. The goal of each team is to design a robot to be made of Legos that could survive moon exploration.
Molokai’s four-person crew, named Molokai Mahina 2.0 (an encore version of their team name last year, Molokai Mahina), was among 20 teams worldwide chosen to advance to the second round – the first time a Hawaiian team has made it this far. More than 70 teams from around the globe entered the competition, which is open to students ages 9 to 18.
Team members include Alex Gilliland, James Duffy, Luke Kikukawa and Michael Kikukawa.
Students do not have to be affiliated with a school to create a team, but must appoint a coach in order to participate. Molokai Mahina 2.0 coach Jenn Whitted said entering the competition was another way to expand community outreach for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, and to get keiki thinking about a side of science they might not have considered otherwise.
“The whole point of [the competition] is to raise awareness of lunar exploration for children and youth,” Whitted said.
During the first phase, each team designed a proposal for a robot they believed would survive on the moon and created an accompanying video essay. The Molokai Mahina 2.0 video essay explained that STEM education is beneficial to students because “it’s our future,” Whitted said. She believed proposal was accepted thanks to the team’s detailed thought-process and ability to learn from last year’s mistakes. For example, this year they used treads instead of last year’s unsuccessful tires.
“It’s not just about the ‘right here, right now,’ but it’s the long-term problem-solving ability and using your knowledge and your previous experience to make decisions. I think they probably saw a lot of that in our group,” she said.
In phase two, each team received a Lego Mindstorms kit, which is used to build a robot with Legos. The robot must be able to maneuver a course and complete special tasks like picking things up and moving them around.
In addition to learning about lunar exploration, the competition has taught the team about perseverance, time management, teamwork and communication, Whitted said.
Judges watch the robot run the course three times via an hour-long Skype interview, which Molokai Mahina 2.0 will complete next week. Winners will be announced by the end of the month, with the top three teams winning prizes. The grand prize includes a three-day trip to the LegoLand theme park in Florida.
The Molokai Mahina 2.0 Moonbots page is available online at moonbots.org/teams/molokai-mahina-20.