PLATTSBURGH — Youngsters in this summer’s robotics camp at the Champlain Valley Transportation Museum discovered the challenges of building and programming robots.
Nearly a dozen kids ages 9 through 14 took part in the second of two Lego League Challenge Radical Robot summer camps at the museum, working with head coach Justin Collins and assistant Bowen Christopher to create robots that not only looked neat but carried out commands without fail.
Which was a challenge indeed.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What do we want the robots to do?’” said Collins, who just graduated from Plattsburgh High School and is attending Plattsburgh State in the fall, where he will work toward a degree in physics and engineering.
“Things evolved through ideas I had with Bowen. He’s a good reference to work with. But we had to decide, ‘What do we want the kids to accomplish?’”
BUILT FROM SCRATCH
The participants broke into two teams, each one working on a goal to build and program working robots within one week.
“On Day 1, we had a Powerpoint presentation that introduced the kids to robots and the (Lego League Challenge) program,” Collins said. “I had prepared two robots for them the first day, but on Day 2, they started from scratch building their own robots.”
Using kits designed by Lego for robotic competitions, the kids put their time and energies to building a robot unique to their own design.
Then, using laptop computers, each team programmed a series of commands into its robot, commands the automated machines would have to carry out on the final day of the camp during the Green City Challenge competition.
The challenge features a Lego city spread out on a platform. Structures include a dam, a windmill, a factory and a family house.
Each team had to program the robots to carry out a task — such as pressing a button to turn on the windmill, knocking down a smokestack on the factory or placing solar panels on the house — to promote green activities and a clean environment.
When successful, the building would release a yellow block that represented a clean-energy cube.
“These are autonomous robots, working on their own from commands the kids programmed,” said Anthony Vaccaro, president of the Transportation Museum, who was watching Day 5 competition with keen interest.
Team One went through its tasks, connecting on a few and missing a couple of them.
“We nailed this in practice,” said one disappointed team member when the robot just missed its target.
“It’s all a matter of placement,” Collins said. “If you miss (placing your robot at the right spot when starting out) by just a fraction, you’ll miss (the target) by several inches.”
NOT JUST FUN
The concept for the summer camps was not simply fun and games, however.
“Right now, jobs are in technology and science,” Collins said. “These kinds of jobs are never going to go away, so it’s important to learn about them at a young age to get kids interested in the field.”
The long-term goal for the robotic challenge is to create local teams that will compete in regional challenges held at Clarkson University, Vaccaro noted.
Clarkson representatives were in Plattsburgh this past spring and will return during the Battle of Plattsburgh Commemoration in September for another public demonstration.
Email Jeff Meyers: email@example.com