July 26, 2011
University of Utah robotics camp a smash hit with kids
(Geoffrey Fattah, Deseret News) — A group of middle school kids cluster around two robots whizzing toward each other. The goal of the game of “sumo” is to push the opponent’s robot out of bounds.
The kids set up their bots and let them charge toward each other.
Robot parts fly in different directions as they collide. Through the struggle of grinding electric motors and spinning wheels, one robot prevails. The victors rejoice: “We won, yeah!”
On its face, the University of Utah’s annual robotics camp seems like play, but organizers say the kids learn important lessons in not only building robots and programming, but solving problems and learning from mistakes.
“Robotics is a nice blend of computer science and mechanical engineering,” said David Johnson, a research associate at the U.’s computer science department. Johnson, who helps coordinate GREAT (Graphics &and Robotic Exploration with Amazing Technology), said that while computer and robotics camps have been running at the U. for a while, GREAT was started four years ago and has grown into an amazing success.
“We started four years ago with just 35 middle school students. We now have over 300 students,” Johnson said.
The camp has also gained the support of Novell, Microsoft, NVIDIA and the U.S. Air Force, which provide financial help as well as equipment.
Eleven-year-old Michael Cotner is not thinking about a tech career. He’s thinking about how he can make his “sumo gerbil” robot better, pointing out that he built the robot with an arm to flip his opponents over. But it needs tweaking.
“Robots are probably the hardest part,” said 15-year-old Travis White. “My robot died,” he added, while showing the pieces he was using to rebuild his bot. More…Posted by: psilberman