Area youth design, construct Lego robots at summer camp

TRINITY - At a small table with two other partners, 12-year-old Rachel Lucas fiddled with gray, plastic Lego arms and connector pieces to build the front of her robot.

The front end of the robot snapped off and fell to the table.

"Back to the drawing board," she sighed.

This is the second year the Dayspring Academy student has participated in Inanimate Reason's "Fun With Bots" summer program at the Longleaf Community Center. The week-long camp allows middle school-age youth to build and program robots with Lego Mindstorms kits.

The robots then participate in battles against one another using motors, sensors, and Lego appendages to knock opponents over or out of the ring.

Last year, Rachel built a robot so sophisticated that camp director Bill Shaw keeps video clips of it on his phone to show off to other campers and parents.

"I made a bot called 'Flower' with two other girls and we destroyed everybody else's robots so I thought 'wow, that was really fun' so I came back again this year," Rachel said.

Shaw, the owner of Inanimate Reason, has been running after-school programs locally for six years and summer camps for the last three. He said the camps not only give kids something to do during the summer, it teaches them basic engineering, sound construction and programming in the process of designing and building their robots.

"The kids start with basic introductory lessons," Shaw said. "They learn how to build the robots with instructions from the kit and then they enhance them without instructions. Then they do a programming program with instructions and then they modify the program on their own."

"I also give the kids a lot of different challenges they can work on to suit their interests and abilities."

The program that gives the robots their instructions looks like a flowchart on the screen when it's completed. The students take turns on laptops tapping out instructions for the robots' motors and sensors, which shows up as colored blocks on the screen.

Then they unplug the robot from the computer and test them out.

"Legos are a big draw by itself," Shaw said. When you add in the robotics and add in the ability to make a creation that moves and responds to its environment, it's much more engaging for the kids. It's loud, it's fun and the kids have a good time."

The camp is offered in North Tampa, South Tampa, Lutz and Trinity each summer. The cost is $160 per child per half day camp or $300 per full day camp. For more information visit or call (813) 249-5522.
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