Spartanburg, S.C. - Summer 2009 marks the first time that the University of South Carolina Upstate has organized robotics summer camps for children interested in science and technology. During the week of June 29 - July 3, 26, participants spent their days in the USC Upstate robotics laboratory which houses several Stäubli industrial robotic arms as well as mobile robotic devices like the NXT Mindstorm robots. Their ages ranged from 10 to 19 and they came from all over the Upstate – Inman, Simpsonville, Greer, Spartanburg, and Lyman, to name a few.
“The activities included a ‘Shootem Up Competition’ where they had to maneuver the robotic arm into firing positions where they would shoot Nerf bullets at targets using compressed air,” said Dr. Sebastian van Delden, associate professor of computer science at USC Upstate and camp organizer. “Each member of the group that hit the most targets in a timed competition won a $10 gift card to Best Buy. In this activity, the kids learn how to operate industrial robotic arms in a fun and competitive environment.” The participants also wrote computer programs to do pick and place tasks – a typical industrial robotics application in factories.
The second half of the camps were spent on building and programming the NXT mobile robots to navigate through a maze. Again the students learned how to write computer programs that control the NXT robot’s motors and sonic sensors. “It was amazing to see 10 and 11 year-olds getting it, actually writing Java code in Eclipse which our college students also use,” said Dr. van Delden.
Besides in class activities, the camps also went on several field trips, including BMW, SEW Eurodrive, and the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System. At Spartanburg Regional, the kids got to interact with the Davinci surgical robot, as well as the pharmacy delivery robots which autonomously deliver medication throughout the hospital.
Usually, such weeklong robotics camps are very expensive; however, USC Upstate only charged each student $10. This was possible because SEW Eurodrive and the Spartanburg Youth Council sponsored the camps. This enabled the University to first target lower-income families who could not normally afford an expensive camp. In the end, USC Upstate accepted participants from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. “In this economy, many families were excited about the opportunity to have their child participate in this camp," said Dr. van Delden. "Funds from our sponsors were used to purchase lunch for the kids each day, project materials, travel on field trips, and pay for two USC Upstate student workers who assisted me in the camps.”
After the camp ended, feedback from the students was overwhelmingly positive. One participant wrote, “It was an awesome camp. Usually, in my other robotics camps, we never worked with robots, we just learned about them. This camp was so cool, along with the hands-on activities we did.” Another participant wrote, “The camp was awesome! I had an awesome experience learning about robotics stuff. I really liked shooting Nerf bullets and building the NXT robot! I didn’t like going home after camp.”
Dr. van Delden would like to thank all of those who provided their support in planning and executing these camps and would like to extend a special thanks the following individuals for all of their help: Edie Bacome and Jared Scott at SEW, David Church at Spartanburg Regional, Lavinia Hurley at the Spartanburg Youth Council, Ann Fesperman at the Upstate Workforce Investment Board, David Arceneaux and Chad Henry at Stäubli, and Peggy Williams, Cherie Pressley, Jerome Lewis, Scott Larson, Nicole Tobias and Jermaine Pinckney at USC Upstate.
More information, including several pictures taken during the camps, can be found at Dr. van Delden’s website: http://faculty.uscupstate.edu/svandelden.