Imagination, ambition and technology collide at an annual high-school robot-building competition.
Journalist Bascomb (Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World’s Most Notorious Nazi, 2009, etc.) charts the marathon play-by-play teamwork of a group of fourth-year Southern California students from Dos Pueblos High School Engineering Academy as they competed in a robot-building contest. Since 2002, physics teacher and mentor Amir Abo-Shaeer has administered an experimental science curriculum culminating in a team entry in “FIRST” (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a worldwide robotics competition created by Dean Kamen, who lists the Segway among his many groundbreaking inventions. Bascomb incrementally amps up the suspense as he follows the Dos Pueblos D’Penguineers as they quelled interpersonal drama to collectively “embrace their diversity,” working through weeks of 16-hour days designing, developing and constructing their most sophisticated yet efficient robot to handle that year’s basketball theme. Challenged by the $3,500 raw-material budget, the weight of strict deadlines (robots must be completed in six weeks) and stiff competition (1,686 teams participate), the group was buoyed by the team’s “SolidSeven,” specific students who were specially pretrained and adept at spatial relationships, mechanism prototyping, electrical design, drive trains, computer programming and basketball shots—all essential to the success of their “PenguinBot.” Aside from a mind-numbing plethora of physics terminology, Bascomb skillfully translates the exhilarating challenge to the page via intricately descriptive, expertly paced sketches of the group and their combined handiwork.
A nail-biting thrill ride for techies and armchair engineers.