When the Kalaheo High School robotics team needed technical support, a Marine with Marine Aircraft Group 24 answered the call. Capt. Gregory Calloway, a native of Canton, N.C., joined forces with the public high school team to engineer a handcrafted robot. The team is one of 37 high school groups from around the world participating in the Hawaii Robotics Regional Competition in Honolulu, beginning April 4. “He has helped organize the kids and the work they do,” said Arthur Fitchett, a Kalaheo High School woodshop teacher and robotics team faculty adviser. “Our program’s philosophy is if the students have ideas, our job is to help them achieve them and not do it for them.” Fitchett said the Kalaheo team was initially out of the running since the school could not afford the $5,000 competition entrance fee. However, an anonymous donor paid the school’s fee and the team of 15 students began work in January. Fitchett and the students searched for mentors who could help them prepare before their deadline in six weeks, asking for help from Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard personnel. Their request found its way to Marine Corps Base Hawaii, and Calloway volunteered to help.
“These students were already great with electronics, but I think I brought more management help to the table,” said Calloway, an assistant transition task force officer with MAG-24. “We came up with a time table scheduled to break the big goals down into small tasks.” Calloway and the students built and programmed a robot that could launch plastic flying discs at strategic slots located 3 to 9 feet above the ground. During the competition, the robot must perform tasks on its own and also under direct control from a human operator. The operator must be able to control the robot and score goals using radio controls, a wireless router and a netbook. The bulk of the work was to be completed by Feb. 19. “We have a nice working base,” said 14-year-old student Mathis Banel, the team’s main programmer. “All we need to do is get our launcher to work.” The students streamlined their launcher’s design with Calloway’s technical assistance. He drew on previous experience of building robots during military training and the knowledge of aerodynamics he gained from training as a helicopter pilot. “With his help, we’ve progressed a lot,” said 17-year-old Raine Ikagawa, the robotics team captain. “We have a robot with good potential. (Calloway’s) experience and suggestions have definitely helped us and he’s guided our ideas.” In last year’s competition, Ikagawa recalls the school didn’t have a mentor and had trouble getting their robot’s shooter to work. She also said Calloway assisted them in keeping their designs simple and introduced them to tools like Gantt charts and fishbone diagrams. She said the charts and diagrams helped the team organize their work, keep to a schedule and improve their efficiency. After working with the Kalaheo team, Calloway said he wants to continue his volunteer work in youth robotics wherever he moves next. He encouraged more Marines to mentor in this fashion, especially since they can help guide students interested in engineering to potential jobs or higher education opportunities. For Ikagawa, her work on the team for the last three years and Calloway’s example has inspired her to think big. Ikagawa has applied to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other engineering schools. Graduating team member Stephen Anderson said he’d like to join the military and become a pilot. He said Calloway has taught him leadership skills that can help to succeed. Calloway said he’s enjoyed sharing his love of robotics while working with the students, and he has been inspired by the team’s intellectual curiosity. He and Fitchett said the competition is a great way for the students to improve their problem-solving skills. “You’re presented with a problem, and you can either throw up your hands in defeat or do something,” he said. “The students here are jumping all over it and looking for solutions.” Several students agreed robots are the answer to many problems and are the wave of the future. In April, the wave will come in from Australia, China, California and other Hawaii schools to compete.