How 4 Mexican Immigrant Kids and Their Cheap Robot Beat MIT

Ten years ago, WIRED contributing editor Joshua Davis wrote a story about four high school students in Phoenix, Arizona—three of them undocumented immigrants from Mexico—beating MIT in an underwater robot competition. That story, La Vida Robot, has a new chapter: Spare Parts, starring George Lopez and Carlos PenaVega, opens in January, and Davis is publishing abook by the same title updating the kids’ story. To mark that occasion, WIRED is republishing his original story.

Joshua Davis in Wired:

Team-660x505Oscar began by explaining that his high school team was taking on college students from around the US. He introduced his teammates: Cristian, the brainiac; Lorenzo, the vato loco who had a surprising aptitude for mechanics; and 18-year-old Luis Aranda, the fourth member of the crew. At 5’10” and 250 pounds, Luis looked like Chief from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He was the tether man, responsible for the pickup and release of what would be a 100-pound robot.

Szwankowski was impressed by Oscar. He launched into an in-depth explanation of the technology, offering details as if he were letting them in on a little secret. “What you really want,” he confided, “is a thermocouple with a cold junction compensator.” He went over the specifications of the device and then paused. “You know,” he said, “I think you can beat those guys from MIT. Because none of them know what I know about thermometers.”

“You hear that?” Oscar said triumphantly when they hung up. He looked at each team member pointedly. “We got people believing in us, so now we got to believe in ourselves.”

Read the full story here.