Robotics team prepares for competition

February 29, 2008 12:35:30 AM PST
The award-winning robotics team at San Jose's Leland High School is preparing for a big tournament next month, a competition that could earn one of them a $10,000 scholarship. The Leland kids owe their success, indirectly, to the inventor of a life-saving kidney machine.

"What were trying to do right now is reconnect the victors which are on the speed controls," said 17-year-old Alejandro Arambula. He is president of the San Jose Leland High School robotics team.

On Thursday they're tinkering with their 2006 entry. A student video shows their 2008 entry in the robotics competition, scheduled next month at San Jose State University. The students designed the robot by computer. Its goal is to place a ball over a six foot wall.

"We have 6 weeks to build the whole thing," said Seger, a student on the team.

"This takes an immense amount of effort because we have to coordinate 40 students and have to talk to our PR people. We have to be able to fundraise $20,000 a year," said Arambula.

"The school doesn't give us any money," said Jenny Yang.

NASA funded the first robot in the program. Since then money has come from a variety of donors, parents, corporations, mentors and volunteers like Mass Mutual financial advisor Michael Barnaba.

"I have some engineers over at Sun and Adobe. I'm challenging them to put their money where their mouths are and help these kids," said Barnaba.

The program is open to all students. It's not just about mechanically and electrically engineering a robot that can twist, turn, lift, throw and place a pool ring on a pole. These students learn cooperation, design, how to fill out grant applications, fundraise and make corporate presentations.

The robotics program started here at Leland High School about seven years ago and owes its existence to a life threatening illness.

Dean Kamen started the Bay Area's robotics program. He also invented the Segway, most importantly for math teacher, Helen Arrington, he invented a dialysis machine.

"Because of this machine kept my husband alive, I felt that I easily could be involved with this program," said Helen Arrington, a robotics team sponsor.

Her robotics students say they will become doctors, engineers, and forensic scientists.

"The things that they're going to invent in life, I can't even begin to fathom," said Arrington.