Kids delve into design, programming at robotics workshop

Aug 16, 2019

What do you get when you give a roomful of kids a box of parts and a computer?

Dartmouth High School’s summer robotics workshop set out to find the answer, with two one-week summer camps that ended in a robotics competition in the school’s engineering lab on Friday.

“We just wanted to reach out to our community and introduce them more to STEM science, technology, engineering, and math,” said Dartmouth High School robotics club president Vaibhav Dubey, who is going into his senior year this fall.

Dubey noted that this year the second for the workshop the group leaders were more organized. 

“We were actually much more prepared this year, because we knew what was coming,” he laughed.

The workshop accepts middle school and high school kids who learn the basics by building and programming their robots over four days, before testing them out with a competition on the fifth day.

This year nearly twenty kids joined the program, which is free.

Teens from the high school’s robotics club lead the workshops, showing beginners the ropes and helping wherever necessary — although they try to take a more hands-off approach and let the kids get creative on their own.

“It’s really cool to see seven different robots made with all different types of designs that the kids go with,” said Dartmouth High robotics team captain and workshop co-leader Nick McMaster. “It’s really interesting to see how they think of solving problems.”

Nick Carnes, another team captain, agreed. “We want to see how much they can do on their own,” he said, adding that they still help out with more advanced stuff, especially programming. 

“It’s cool to see them do more with a little freedom,” said McMaster. “We just try to let them figure it out. But obviously if they’re stuck on something that’s frustrating, we help them out.”

The kids use materials from the school’s robotics classes, including bits of metal as well as Legos for the robots’ bodies, along with a graphical AI interface, the Lego Mindstorms platform, for programming.

They were enjoying testing out their robots in a small arena with plastic balls, wooden containers, and ramps.

Team Blade Runners were checking the list to see when they would be competing. 

Dartmouth High sophomore Minhong Chang, 15, said his favorite part of the class was working with other people to come up with ideas and then seeing them work out.

Meanwhile his team member and Dartmouth Middle Schooler Sam, 13, said he enjoyed the moments when it doesn’t work at all. 

“Eventually, somehow, we MacGyver everything together,” he said. “It’s all duct tape and loose screws. And we have no idea what’s going to work.”

“I’m excited for the competition to start,” said 12-year-old Daniel McIlhargey from the team Dark Humor, who was test-spinning the robot in circles after taping a laughing emoji to its back end.

“I’ve had lots of fun so far,” he added. “I’ve been interested in robots for a long time. I kind of just like creating stuff, and I find it a lot of fun to design.”

The final competition involved a recycling theme, with the robots earning points by corralling plastic balls into marked “trash” areas or scooping them up a ramp and into a wooden container.

Blade Runners ultimately won, with Dark Humor coming in second place and Team Name in third.

The Dartmouth High School robotics club members acted as referees and commentators for the younger kids. 

More than half of the club members are going into their senior year this fall.

This means that for many of them, it’s their last chance to win the state championships for Dartmouth High.

“We’ve been to the states for the past two years running,” said club member William Fang.

“Worlds is our goal this year,” said Carnes. “Because this will be our last year, we’re really hoping we can get there. We’ve been really preparing...It’s our life.”