Robotics camp tries to get kids' wheels turning

Novices given a hands-on experience


Studying his circuit board, light sensors and several strategically placed wires, Jaymar Faulkner found himself stuck. His Mousebot was supposed to follow a black line of electrical tape on the cafeteria floor at Woodlawn High School, but it kept going the wrong direction - when it moved at all.

Jaymar, 13, decided to start over. As frustrated as he was to dismantle his project after getting so far, he also was happy to do it. Like the other youngsters at the Woodlawn Robotics Summer Camp, Jaymar had come to work not just with his mind, but also with his hands.

"They're here because they're interested in robotics," Teresa Harper, the camp's adviser, said yesterday of the 23 youngsters, ages 8 to 16, at the camp. "Each one of these kids is engaged."

The camp began Monday and will conclude today. Each camper paid $125 to attend. Harper said the money pays for lunches, instructional booklets and robot-building kits.

During the first half of the week, the youngsters built Lego Mind Storms for a competition based on presentation and appearance. Yesterday, they worked on the Mousebots, took a lunch break, then either finished their robots or moved to the final task, working on a Vex Kit. A second competition was scheduled for today.

Harper said the primary purpose of the camp is to make sure the campers learn about and appreciate robotics. And the best way to appreciate them, she said, is to build them.

"When the kids came, I wanted them to understand what robotics was, and how do robots move? How do they work? Why do we need them?," Harper said. "The reason why robotics, in my opinion, was designed was so that it could make life easier for us. ... You don't really think about things that we use every day."

Harper is an anatomy and physiology teacher who leads a robotics team at Woodlawn High. The school's robotics team, the Technowarriers received an award for good sportsmanship at the Chesapeake regional competition in March, allowing them to compete against national and international teams in the spring in Atlanta.

For the FIRST ( For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition, team members had six weeks to create a robot. They entered their robot, Triple Threat, in a tournament, winning four of six games, Harper said.

This week, members of the Technowarriers have been helping campers including Jaymar when they are not sure how to fix their robots.

Michael Brauckmann, a home-schooled student from Randallstown and a member of Woodlawn's Robotics team, helped Jaymar fix his Mousebot to get it moving in the right direction, along the black line.

Michael, 16, told Jaymar that his switch had shorted out, and the two had to take the circuit board off to see where two contacts on the board were connected but shouldn't have been.

"Once they ... get stuck, we're instructing them as much as we could, but we like to see them do it themselves," Michael said. "He did most of the connections himself."

When the campers started building the Mousebots, they were given only parts and tools. Harper emphasized that knowing how to read instructions was as important as knowing how to use parts.

Bryan Westbrooks, 15, came to the camp from Atlanta with his robotics teacher, Bart Sudderth, and his competition partner, Jametrice Brown. Bryan said the three were invited to the camp after meeting Harper at the FIRST competition and were able to attend with the help of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta scholars program.

Bryan said he has been interested in robotics since he was 4, when he took apart and reconstructed remote-control cars. Since he met Sudderth last year, he said, he has become more and more interested in robotics.

"I've just grown more aware of what's around me," Bryan said. "This is the future."

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