The team of seven Mountain View kids, which is calling itself Green MacHHHHine, includes five students from Mountain View High School. At press time, the group was preparing for the VEX World Championships, held April 14-16 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. Teams compete to see who can build the best robot capable of performing tasks in a series of challenges and events.
"I'm a little bit nervous," said Mountain View freshman Robbie Kalb. "But it's exciting too. We think we have a really competitive robot. We think we have a chance to win something."
Kalb has been participating in competitive robotics games for two years. Building the robots is both challenging and a learning experience, he said. He's made many friends and, of course, his team gets to compete in challenges. "It's really fun," he said.
The eccentric spelling of Green MacHHHHine comes from the group's affiliation with the 4-H youth organization.
Kalb's father, Irv, said he is pleased with his son's involvement on the team. Kalb, a software developer, said he first took his sons Robbie and Jamie to a robotics competition because he thought they might be interested in starting a team themselves, something that would make for a positive and fun learning experience for the boys.
Both his sons loved the event and soon thereafter started their team. "Once they saw it, they got hooked," Kalb said.
Since his boys have been participating in the robotics competitions, they have learned about computer engineering, software development, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering —in addition to problem solving and teamwork.
His older son, Jamie, who now serves as a mentor to the team, got accepted to Santa Clara University with a scholarship he earned because of his involvement with the robotics competitions, he said.
"I think I did want to be a mechanical engineer before this, but I didn't know it consciously. Robotics made me realize that this is what I wanted to do," Jamie said.
The team will participate in a round of tournaments and side challenges at the Florida competition. The main event in any tournament match is a game called "Round Up," where teams of robots must pick up rings from designated areas, move over to a pylon goal and drop the ring down on the pylon.
Additionally there are side challenges where teams must run their robots through other tests.
"There's a lot of strategy involved and you try to accomplish tasks," Irv said. "It's really interesting to see how different teams attempt to solve the problem."
In the preliminary rounds teams are paired with another team at random to work as one larger team in the Round Up games. If Green MacHHHHine makes it to the final tournament, they will be paired with two other teams, but will only be able to use two robots in the Round Up arena. This rule serves as yet another layer of team building, as teams have to make sacrifices for the greater good of the larger team.