In La Vida Robot, Wired tells the story of a team of undocumented Mexican immigrants at a West Phoenix high school who competed in a contest to build an underwater robot that could survey a model of a sunken submarine.
. . . 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.
Teachers entered the team in “the expert-level Explorer class instead of the beginner Ranger class. They figured their students would lose anyway, and there was more honor in losing to the college kids in the Explorer division than to the high schoolers in Ranger.”
With the help of some OB tampons to plug a last-minute leak, they went up against MIT — and won.
Read the whole story. It’s fantastic. Here’s a link to contribute to the scholarship fund for the four team members, who aren’t eligible for financial aid or in-state tuition because they’re not legal residents.