An Olympics for Young Robot-Makers

Compiled by Ann Japenga

David Neighbours wants children of the future to be “ready for robots.” The computer instructor at Cal State University, San Bernardino, is helping coordinate the third annual Robot Olympics, a competition for elementary through high school students next Friday, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the gymnasium at the San Bernardino campus.

While the prospect of building a robot and entering it in a robot dash, robot slalom or robot biathlon might intimidate adults, Neighbours said children are more aware that robot-making is simply “a mechanical extension of what you do on a computer.”

“We don’t want kids nowadays to suffer the same computer lag we (adults) have suffered,” Neighbours said. “Physical activity controlled by a program (his definition of a robot) is simply one way to reduce the amount of trivial work in the world.” Neighbours said CSUSB Computer Center instructors try to make children aware of the social ramifications of placing robots in jobs formerly held by humans.

It’s too late to enter mechanical creatures in this year’s event, but Neighbours is urging children with a scientific inclination to begin learning how to program in a procedural language such as Logo in preparation for next year’s contest. For an application, write to the Computer Center at Cal State San Bernardino, 5500 University Parkway, San Bernardino 92407.


Scout to Visit U.S.S.R.

When 14-year-old David Wells heard his grandparents tell about their vacation to Russia several years ago, something about the stories intrigued him. Despite his longing to see the place for himself, it seemed unlikely that Wells, a member of Boy Scout Troop 443 in Covina, would visit the land his grandparents described until he was much older.

But as Special Award Winner of the Outstanding Youth Award presented by R. G. Canning Corp., a Los Angeles-based promotional firm, Wells will be on his way to Leningrad and Moscow on June 10. Later in the trip, he’ll board the trans-Siberian railway to Mongolia. An eager outdoorsman, he’s especially looking forward to camping out in the Gobi desert during his stay in Russia.

Each year businessman R. G. Canning selects a group of youths from boys’ organizations across the nation to accompany him on trips. The winners are those who have excelled in their own organizations and have expressed a special desire to see a certain part of the world.


David said his friends don’t share his fascination with the journey. They keep asking him, “Why did you choose Russia?”

His answer: “I want to see how the people live, meet a few people and see what it looks like over there.”

Helping the Filipino Poor

The new government of the Philippines has agreed to permit duty-free import of specific items from the United States earmarked for distribution to the poor, according to the Rev. Merlin D. Gindlesperger. The minister, who was the subject of an article in last Sunday’s View section regarding his drive to help impoverished Filipinos, said he received a call from Manila informing him of the government’s action.


Contributions may be made via Gindlesperger in care of the Independent Assemblies of God International, 39575 9th St. East, Apartment 122, Palmdale 93550, or through the Evangelical Free Church of Reseda, 18825 Saticoy St., Reseda, he said. Information: (805) 947-0953 or (818) 344-1633.

Aiding ‘Lousy’ Car Buyers

David Breslow wants to be the white knight of the car-buying public, helping men and women get the best price on a car “no matter how lousy a car buyer they may be,” he said.

Breslow, 29, worked for 10 years in automobile sales and leasing. Now he’s switched camps to work for the consumer. For a fee of $100, Breslow and his staff at Auto Purchase Consulting, (213) 479-1792, will comb Southern California dealerships to find the car you’re looking for at the lowest possible price.


“There’s admittedly a few people in the dealerships who think what I’m doing is absurd,” Breslow said. His two-year-old company gets about 100 clients a month, he added. The fee includes a full refund within 30 days if the buyer finds the car at a lower price elsewhere.

“We’re here to really arm the client,” Breslow said. He drives a 1985 Audi 5000 (highly recommended to clients) and, on weekends, a Porsche 914.

High-Tech Teachers

Mary McLuhan established the McLuhan Distinguished Teacher Awards in 1983 to honor innovators in the classroom and to perpetuate the ideals of her father, Canadian educator Marshall McLuhan, who died five years ago. Malibu resident Mary McLuhan said she chose to focus on teachers who integrate computers into the classroom because “that’s an area of the curriculum that needs a lot more encouragement and attention.”


On Thursday, 10 teachers from the Los Angeles area received awards. Prizes of $1,000 went to each of the teachers, plus $500 to each school. Sponsored by the Marshall McLuhan Center on Global Communications, the awards are funded by grants from Apple Computer Inc., the American Honda Foundation and other companies and individuals.

Finalists were selected from more than 150 Los Angeles area applicants nominated by their schools. Typical of the winners is Merrell Frankel, a social studies teacher at Berendo Junior High School near downtown Los Angeles. Frankel, a mother of two, has taken computers to new heights in the classroom by developing computer-related curricula in social studies, world history and economics for 6th-, 7th- and 12th-graders. She initiated a women’s history program at her school and has her class celebrate women’s history month each year, incorporating computers into the festivities.

Other winners: Phillip Jackson, Norwood Elementary School; Sandra Johnson, Chatsworth Park Elementary School; Jack Knight, James A. Garfield High School; Dr. E. Stanley Batten, LeConte Jr. High School; Ronald S. Wachter, Belvedere Jr. High School; Rebecca Penso, Dublin Fundamental Career Awareness Magnet; Thomas Jett, Brentwood Science Magnet; Donn Keith III, Washington Prep High School; Bob Fedrick, El Camino Community College.

Instead of a Wheelchair


Some people call it “The Tank.” Indeed, the Access Personal Transport Vehicle unveiled recently at the Abilities Expo in Los Angeles looks more like a moon-going military machine than an alternative to the wheelchair. But James Hinson, vice president of operations and marketing at NATCO Corp., the Foster City firm that manufactures the vehicle, predicts that one day it will replace the electric wheelchair.

Several disabled consultants aided in the creation of Access. With its tanklike tracks engaged, the Access can climb most stairs, go up and down curbs and over thresholds. Automatic sensors read the surface ahead of the vehicle and alert the driver through an electronic voice synthesizer if the terrain is not passable. With finger-tip controls, the chair can be lowered or raised to fit under most desks or tables.

Although at $10,000 the Access costs about twice as much as a standard electric wheelchair, Hinson said the machine will actually save users money by eliminating the need to furnish their homes or workplace with lifts and ramps.