From self-driving cars to drones of every stripe, robots seem to be ubiquitous these days. Wired magazine gave its Jan. 2013 cover story the simple tagline, “The Robots Take Over.”
The popularity of robotics made its way to Marin long ago, as more than a half-dozen local middle and high schools have had robotics clubs for years, including the White Hill Middle School Robotics program.
But those efforts look to be ramping up even more as White Hill is capitalizing on the success of its robotics program by expanding it to include two elective classes for 7th and 8th graders in the 2013-2014 school year.
The move comes on the heels of the First Lego League NorCal Championships in Redwood City, a robotics competition that featured 47 Northern California teams that design, build and program Lego Mindstorm robots to do a series of autonomous tasks and judged on the performance of those robots.
The competition calls for the teams to come up with an innovative solution to the theme of the year. This year’s theme was Senior Solutions, and White Hill’s RoboManiacs garnered the second place ‘Innovative Solution’ award for their ‘Sherlook Homz’ invention, which uses RFID technologies and a mobile app to help seniors with memory problems locate lost items.
The team featured 7th graders Connor Chambers and Vincent Lucido of San Anselmo, 7th graders Maya Krause, Nick Maley and Juliet Crome of Fairfax, 8th grader Max Starr of San Anselmo and 8th grader Nick Moore of Fairfax.
White Hill Robotics Coach Andrew Maley said the Sherlook Homz system applies a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag to items that are frequently misplaced. Camera-fitted sensors are placed in each room of a home and the system runs via a tablet computer. When an item is lost, the system “pings” the RFID tags and takes a picture of the room in which the item is located.
The RoboManiacs made a skit-style presentation about the system they created, on which they’d been working since last September, to the panel of judges, and the result was the Lego-style trophy above. Another team, Helping Hands won the Judges Award in a prior round of tournaments.
The Robomaniacs now advance to the online-only FLL Global Innovative award in which they’ll compete against teams from across the globe. Winners are chosen through online voting, which begins here starting Feb. 11.
This is the second consecutive year that White Hill Robotics teams have won an award, as the Robogirls won an Innovation award in the Sacramento championships in 2012.
“The response has been pretty incredible,” Andrew Maley said of the school’s Robotics program.
White Hill math teacher Nate MacDonald, who oversees the program, expanded it to a pre-period class that meets five days a week, one hour per day. The school sent out a query to prospective White Hill students at schools like Manor, Upper Brookside and Wade Thomas elementary schools and received interest in robotics from 77 students, a number that surprised even Maley.
“It’s real taking off,” he said.
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