HONOLULU – Nearly 1,000 middle school and high school students from Hawai‘i, the U.S. Mainland and China will descend upon the Hawai‘i Convention Center this week, December 3 – 5, for the 2nd annual VEX Robotics Pan-Pacific Championship.  The event is free and open to the public.

The team-based robotics competition will put students’ engineering and high-tech skills to the test in three action-packed days of competition with robots created from the VEX Robotics Design System.

For the past several months, students, with guidance from their teachers and mentors, have been working together to build innovative robots designed to solve a set of difficult challenges presented in the game.  During the competition, 90 student teams from Hawai‘i, the mainland and China schools will square off in the game of “Clean Sweep.”

The object of the “Clean Sweep” challenge is for two-team alliances to maneuver their robots to place as many balls as possible onto their opponent’s side of the field and by “locking up” small balls in triangular goals.

This competition will qualify top teams to compete in two additional international tournaments.  Nine teams from the Pan-Pacific VEX Robotics Championship will qualify for the VEX Robotics World Championship in April in Dallas, Texas, and 17 teams will qualify for the CREATE Foundation Championship of the Americas VEX tournament in March, 2010 in Omaha, Nebraska.

Robotics education is a key component of the Lingle-Aiona Administration’s Hawai‘i Innovation Initiative, which seeks to transform Hawai‘i’s economy from one based on land development to one based on the innovative capacity of Hawai‘i’s residents, especially our youth. Robotics provides students with a strong educational foundation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and offers them opportunities to solve problems, work as teams and think analytically – skills useful in any career.
“The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa College of Engineering has been excited to see the tremendous enthusiasm for robotics and STEM education over the last decade,” said Dr. Song Choi, assistant dean, College of Engineering.

VEX Robotics is one of six major programs in which Hawai‘i students can participate.  The six programs include VEX, FIRST Robotics, FIRST LEGO League, Botball, Underwater Remote Operating Vehicle (ROV), and Micro Robotics.

Recognizing the importance of promoting robotics at an early age and sustaining students’ interest in STEM education throughout their schooling, the six robotics programs which previously operated autonomously joined together to form the Hawai‘i Robotics Organizing Committee (ROC) (www.robotics.hawaii.gov).  Under the ROC, all six of the robotics programs coordinate their efforts to promote robotics education in elementary, middle and high schools statewide.

As a result of this increased focus on robotics education, the number of robotics programs in Hawai‘i’s public, private and charter schools has increased dramatically in the past two years. Since January 2008, participation skyrocketed from 95 teams to 334 today – a 252% increase.  The growth has been facilitated by the tremendous support from all sectors of the community, including the Lingle-Aiona Administration; Hawai‘i businesses; engineering and technology associations; the University of Hawai‘i and community colleges statewide; the state’s public, private and charter school organizations; NASA; the U.S. military; and private citizens.

90 teams (nearly 1,000 students) from 47 Hawai‘i, U.S. Mainland and China schools will compete in the VEX Robotics Pan-Pacific Championship, December 3 – 5, at the Hawai‘i Convention Center.