Wired - La Vida Robot - Wired 13.04: La Vida Robot Page 1...

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Search: La Vida Robot How four underdogs from the mean streets of Phoenix took on the best from M.I.T. in the national underwater bot championship. By Joshua Davis The winter rain makes a mess of West Phoenix. It turns dirt yards into mud and forms reefs of garbage in the streets. Junk food wrappers, diapers, and Spanish-language porn are swept into the gutters. On West Roosevelt Avenue, security guards, two squad cars, and a handful of cops watch teenagers file into the local high school. A sign reads: Carl Hayden Community High School: The Pride's Inside . There certainly isn't a lot of pride on the outside. The school buildings are mostly drab, late '50s-era boxes. The front lawn is nothing but brown scrub and patches of dirt. The class photos beside the principal's office tell the story of the past four decades. In 1965, the students were nearly all white, wearing blazers, ties, and long skirts. Now the school is 92 percent Hispanic. Drooping, baggy jeans and XXXL hoodies are the norm. The school PA system crackles, and an upbeat female voice fills the bustling linoleum-lined hallways. "Anger management class will begin in five minutes," says the voice from the administration building. "All referrals must report immediately." Across campus, in a second-floor windowless room, four students huddle around an odd, 3-foot-tall frame constructed of PVC pipe. They have equipped it with propellers, cameras, lights, a laser, depth detectors, pumps, an underwater microphone, and an articulated pincer. At the top sits a black, waterproof briefcase containing a nest of hacked processors, minuscule fans, and LEDs. It's a cheap but astoundingly functional underwater robot capable of recording sonar pings and retrieving objects 50 feet below the surface. The four teenagers who built it are all undocumented Mexican immigrants who came to this country through tunnels or hidden in the backseats of cars. They live in sheds and rooms without electricity. But over three days last summer, these kids from the desert proved they are among the smartest young underwater engineers in the country. It was the end of June. Lorenzo Santillan, 16, sat in the front seat of the school van and looked out at the migrant farmworkers in the fields along Interstate 10. Lorenzo's face still had its baby fat, but he'd recently sprouted a mustache and had taken to wearing a fistful of gold rings, a gold chain, and a gold medallion of the Virgin Mary pierced through the upper part of his left ear. The bling wasn't fooling anyone. His mother had Wired Magazine Search Page 1 of 10 Wired 13.04: La Vida Robot 9/25/2005 http://wired.com/wired/archive/13.04/robot_pr.html
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been fired from her job as a hotel maid, and his father had trouble paying the rent as a gardener. They were on the verge of eviction for nonpayment of rent. He could see himself having to quit school to work in those fields. "What's a PWM cable?" The sharp question from the van's driver, Allan Cameron, snapped Lorenzo out of his
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Wired - La Vida Robot - Wired 13.04: La Vida Robot Page 1...

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