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KLA Helps Robotics Teams Advance their STEM Knowledge

May 25, 2023 3 min read

KLA Foundation and KLA employee volunteers are helping to advance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education by supporting dozens of U.S. high school teams participating in robotics competitions during 2023.

In addition to being a major sponsor of the FIRST® Robotics Silicon Valley Regional event, the KLA Foundation’s financial backing included teams from San Jose and Saratoga that were mentored by KLA employees who shared their engineering knowledge with the students building robots from the ground up. Team 649 from Saratoga High School won the Engineering Inspiration Award, then advanced to the 2023 FIRST Championship in Houston, ranking 17th of 77 teams to become finalists in their division and making it to the event’s First Seed Alliance.

View a short clip of the action at the KLA-sponsored FIRST Robotics Silicon Valley Regional event.

KLA Mentors Share Knowledge

The 45-member Saratoga team worked hundreds of hours for more than three months building Hammerhead, a 26-by-26-inch robot that picked up cones and cubes from the floor and a loading station to score on different levels of a floor grid.

“We held weekly meetings to determine requirements for each subsystem, which involved researching different designs and running physics simulations,” explains Howard Yaung, KLA firmware design engineer. “We built prototypes to evaluate initial designs and used the data we gathered to revise subsystems for the final robot, then we wrote a detailed and precise code that got the job done.”

KLA mentors helped to guide a Saratoga, California high school team through the process of engineering a robot.

KLA Engineers Go Back to School

Two KLA employees returned to their old high schools in San Jose, California to mentor robotics teams.  

Robotics Students ‘Are our Future’

KLA mechanical design engineer Tamara Kawa, who was a student at Notre Dame High School, began mentoring Team 1967 (the Janksters) in 2017 while working on her bachelor’s degree. She continued mentoring the team while earning her Master of Engineering degree and joining KLA in 2020.

After school and on weekends for several months prior to the competition, Tamara helped the Janksters organize and define a strategy. After building their robot, the students have inspection sessions to ensure everything is in place. They practice to make sure the robot doesn’t damage itself or anything else while moving, turning corners and picking up objects.

KLA engineer Tamara Kawa guides students through problems when they ask for help.

“I help them work through problems, but they’re very resourceful and usually figure out things on their own,” Tamara says. “The kids in the program really are our future, and by building robots today with classmates and going to the competitions, they’re well placed to be future leaders in our field.”

Offering a ‘real-world engineering experience’

As a mentor, KLA mechanical design engineer Christopher Loos wants to help the students understand that there’s more to being an engineer than learning raw technical knowledge in college.

With that in mind, he seeks to create professionalism among the participants by inspiring them to collaborate constructively while working within the kind of tight timelines and budgets that are commonplace on engineering teams around the world.

“I have found my own experience in high school deeply valuable because it offered a real-world engineering experience – not just from a technical standpoint, but also for the teamwork and that’s needed to meet the requirements of a project,” he says. “It’s very satisfying to impart my knowledge and guide them through the design process, and as with me, their participation will help them determine what role they want to have in a STEM field.”

KLA’s Christopher Loos (top) has been involved in robotics competitions for 14 years – first as a high school student and now as a mentor.

Billed as “sport for the mind,” the three-day 2023 FIRST Robotics Silicon Valley Regional event was themed around finding new ways to power machines. Fifty-nine teams from five countries brought their robots to participate in games focused on placing cubes on cones and balancing them. KLA Foundation, which contributed $75,000, was principal sponsor.

“KLA’s contribution was critical to the event and it helped to advance robotics and STEM education,” says Luan Heimlich, FIRST Robotics senior regional director for northern California.  

Learn more about the KLA Foundation and its many ongoing projects by visiting our website.

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