Hoop, there it is! Milken’s robotics team scores big


When “Sir Lancebot,” the motorized basketball-playing robot built by the Milken Community High School’s robotics team, made its debut appearance at a regional competition in San Diego in early March, the results were not encouraging.

The team, officially called the Milken Knights, but more often identified as team No. 1856, spent the competition’s first day frantically working to make the robot run and the entire second morning stripping it down to comply with the 120-pound weight limit. When Lancebot finally made it onto the field on a Saturday afternoon, it instantly crashed into another machine, shattering its own electronic board. By the end of the third and final day, the repaired Milken robot had managed to score just one point.

“It was kind of a disappointment in San Diego, but nobody just gave up,” Jonathan Zur, an 11th-grader and the team’s co-captain, said. “We all knew we could do better.”

Two weeks la-ter, at a regional competition in Long Beach, they did just that. The team’s 22 middle- and high-school students earned Lancebot a second-place finish, the best result for the Milken team in its six years of entering the competition.

The mission of the program known as FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), in the words of founder Dean Kamen, is “to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.” The nonprofit organization has been holding international competitions for robots designed and built by high school students for the past 21 years, and at the Milken campus on a Friday afternoon in late April, its transformative power was evident.

Even while 400 other robotics teams from around the world were participating in the championship round of the FIRST Robotics Competition in St. Louis — which the Milken Knights came close to, but did not qualify for — a few members of the team were still only too happy to demonstrate their robot’s abilities.

“We’re running a special drive-train called West Coast Drive, which has six wheels, and the center wheel is lowered so the whole robot can tip back and forth,” Michael Bick, an eighth-grader, said. “You have a smaller wheel base, and so that allows you to turn more efficiently.”

Lancebot is powered by a battery about half the size of that of a typical car, and it includes mechanical and pneumatic as well as electronic parts. Like all of this year’s robotic entries, the Milken machine had to be able to maneuver around a field about half the size of a regulation basketball court on which it had to launch small, foam basketballs through one of four hoops mounted at the ends of the court and retrieve those balls either from the floor or from the human operators standing at the court’s edges.

In essence, the robot had to be able to play basketball. But if that task appears straightforward, designing and building a robot to do those things is anything but.

“There’s a lot of student enthusiasm, and they’re doing high-level stuff here,” Roger Kassebaum, director of the Mitchell Academy of Science and Technology at Milken and the robotics team’s mentor, said.

This year, for the first time, the Milken robot was designed entirely on a computer before fabrication even began. Bick did all the computer-aided design, or CAD, using a computer that was built by fellow teammate Josh Rusheen, who is in the 11th grade.

And the student work isn’t exclusively technological.

In competition, three robots, each from a different team, compete together, so their makers have to learn how to cooperate with people they’ve just met. And because fielding a robotics team can be expensive — on top of teacher salaries, Kassebaum estimated that the program costs about $20,000 annually to run — fundraising and developing partnerships with local businesses and corporate sponsors is also important.

“This year, we made a brochure and launched a more developed version of our Web site,” said Milana Bochkur Dratver, one of two female members of the team. Dratver, who started on the team last year, when she was in ninth grade, mostly focuses on public relations for the team.

On the field, she said, one major reason for Team 1836’s success was Lancebot’s performance in the first 15 seconds of each match, when all robots have to act independently, without any human guidance.

“Our programmer, Daniel Kessler — this was his very first year,” Dratver said. “He’s a ninth-grader, and he was able to program our autonomous round. It was very successful.”

Baskets scored during the autonomous period are worth significantly more than baskets scored during the remaining two minutes of each match, when drivers control the robot.

Milken’s robotics team has become a selling point for prospective students.

“I was considering either Milken or Harvard-Westlake,” said Austin Shalit, an eighth-grader and the team’s pneumatics captain. “I came here because I was very drawn by the robotics and science research. That’s what really made the decision for me.”

“The robotics team is absolutely why both of my kids came here,” said Hal Schloss, a former software developer who acts as the software and Web site mentor for the team. His son and daughter, now both in college studying computer science and aerospace engineering, both served as captains of the robotics team at Milken.

Schloss, who has, with his wife, provided Shabbat meals for the team during competitions for at least the last three years, said Shabbat observance can be difficult, particularly for Orthodox Jews like himself. As for his children, when they competed, Schloss said, “I didn’t look too hard. They did more than I would’ve liked.”

Kassebaum said he doesn’t know of any other Jewish day schools in the United States that field robotics teams in the FIRST competition. In Israel, where competitions are not held on Shabbat, it’s a different story.

“There’s a Tel Aviv regional,” Kassebaum said, and the Milken team competed there in 2010. “We ended up being finalists.”

UCLA’s new hospital takes technology to new frontiers


More than eight years and $829 million in the making, the new Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center is scheduled to open its doors to patients on June 29. The 10-story, 1-million-square-foot complex — which houses the The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA and Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA — features vast, light-drenched spaces and an airport terminal-sized corridor that connects the three centers.

But what’s more impressive about the new center are the elements that most visitors won’t see. Many of these features involve electronic gear and wireless technology, particularly in the hospital’s 23 operating rooms. Especially striking is how bare the operating rooms look. No equipment sits on the floor. Instead, it is suspended from the ceiling by movable booms. Two flat panel monitors, lights, an anesthesia station and a surgeon’s computer control panel all hang down from above.

During a procedure, surgeons can use a touch-screen panel or voice commands to display and control images, adjust room lighting, or phone a colleague. They can access patient histories, X-rays and lab results, and use their fingers on the console to draw — just like a football commentator — on images displayed on a screen.

Multiple cameras record activity in the room, the operating site, and — using an endoscopic camera when appropriate — the patient’s insides. These images can be saved on DVD, shared with a colleague in the next room or across the globe, or transmitted to medical students in a viewing theater two stories below. The fiber optics and other cables necessary for the room’s extensive connectivity fill a phone booth-sized box located against one wall.

The hospital was designed for “efficiency, control and connectivity,” said Dr. Peter Schulam, chief of the Division of Endourology and a member of the design committee for the operating rooms. He said the design process reflected an unusual collaboration between medical staff and equipment manufacturers.

“The companies we worked with were our partners in designing everything,” Schulam said. “Nothing was off-the-shelf.”

The new hospital replaces the one built in 1951 to herald the atomic era. That facility was designed and constructed at a time before CPR, kidney transplantation or open-heart bypass surgery, and without magnetic resonance imaging, laparoscopy or the Internet. Then, as now, planners had to anticipate the needs of the hospital decades into the future.

Schulam said it was challenging to plan a hospital that would take years to build, not to mention one able to adapt to future decades of technological innovation. To ensure that operating rooms can change as future needs dictate, they were designed to be physically and technologically flexible, allowing reconfiguration as needed.

Already, new developments have occurred since the planning process began.

“When we started design, high definition didn’t exist,” Schulam said.

Now four operating rooms feature HD, complete with 42-inch wall-mounted plasma screens.

He said that while UCLA can currently claim the most state-of-the-art hospital in the country, that will change when the next major teaching university builds a new facility.

“It’s a leap-frog effect,” he said, noting that UCLA benefited from observing previous new research hospitals.

The new medical center came about because of the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The university chose to rebuild, rather than retrofit, the hospital in order to meet new seismic safety requirements. The facility can not only withstand a magnitude 8.0 earthquake, but remain functional after doing so.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided $432 million in earthquake relief funding for the hospital, and the state kicked in another $44 million. Private donations accounted for nearly $300 million, and the balance came from hospital financing and bonds.

Reflecting input from more than 500 physicians, nurses and patients, the hospital was designed by celebrated architects I.M. Pei and his son C.C. Pei, along with a team headed by commercial architect design firm Perkins+Will, Pei Partnership Architects and RBB Architects.

Each of the 520 inpatient rooms boasts a sweeping view of Westwood or the UCLA campus, offers wireless Internet and features a fold-out sofa for overnight guests. The rooms can adapt to various levels of care, minimizing the need to transfer patients from one room to another. If patient transport becomes necessary, the patient’s bed — rather than a gurney — serves as the vehicle. Mobile units featuring medicines and IV fluids are also portable, and travel with the patient from one location to another.

A sophisticated electronic records system provides medical staff with immediate access to patient reports, lab results, clinical imaging and real-time vital sign monitoring from any hospital location.

But with all the technology it contains, the hospital is ultimately about the people it serves, according to Dr. James Atkinson, professor of surgery and senior medical director for the transition from the former facility to the new hospital.

In the medical center’s June 4 dedication ceremony program he stated, “Now that we have our building, it is time for us to breathe life into it. It’s up to us to walk the halls, to fire up the machines and to start doing what it is we do best here at UCLA: healing people. Once that happens — once we’ve saved our first life in the new building — we’ll have fully transformed our original vision into reality.”