Robotics Researchers

Published 6:33 pm Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In Room 209 of Smith Hall on the Copiah-Lincoln CommunityCollege campus, a group of boys gathered around an incline,cheering as a small robotic vehicle pulled a stack of tiny metalweights up the hill.

The best part is, each of those boys had a robot in the racetoo, and each one would get to take his turn to see if his tinymonster truck made of Legos could pull the most weight up theincline.

“It’s got three engines,” said Canaan May, 11, of McComb, abouthis creation.

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His partner, Luther Bullock, 11, of Magnolia, explained that theboys had designed the robot themselves.

“We just came up with it,” he said.

The second day of the Science and Robotics Camp at Co-Lin,taught by Dr. Kevin McKone, brought cheers and jeers as the groupgathered around to watch each robot attempt to pull its own weight,exponentially in some cases. But the project also serves anotherpurpose.

“The idea was to give them some experience in designing andbuilding a robot, the program in that case where they had to tellit what to do was simple,” said McKone. “The hard part wasdesigning and building something that wouldn’t fall apart.”

Co-Lin Public Relations Director Natalie Davis said this is thesecond year for the college to do the camp and the numbers havegrown.

“This is a part of our outreach program to our youngerconstituents in the area to get them interested in science andhopefully interested in going into the field,” she said.

The group is made up of mostly children that live withinCo-Lin’s district, but some, like 15-year-old William Marcellos ofRidgeland, have to travel to get there.

“He’s got a great group of young men over there,” Davissaid.

The textbook-based lessons introduced in elementary school don’tattract children to science quite like getting them involved withexperiments and demonstrations. A large part of that, McKone said,is because of the cost of facilities and materials.

During the week the children will work on different hands-onprojects designed to engage their minds, which is often hard to doin early elementary school classrooms.

Another project that the children will undertake is that ofmaking robotic sumo wrestlers.

In order to do so, they must program their robot to find theother robot and push it out of the circle before it gets pushedout. This is done by programming the sensors that come with theLego MindStorm kit used by the campers.

“They can program it to detect how far away something is, and ifit’s light or dark, then when they get it, it can detect whetherit’s touched something,” McKone said. “They’ll detect the otherrobots and once they detect them, push them out of the ring. Theyhave a lot of control over telling these little robots what todo.”

The campers will also do a drag race with the robots, where therobots have to start on audio command and stop at the finishline.

Camp attendees will travel to French Camp at the end of the weekand stay overnight at the Rainwater facility, where they will use16 telescopes to study the constellations while learning about thelore of the night sky, McKone said. Rainwater recently beganoperating a research-grade robotics telescope.

“It’s a world-class observatory, and one of the founders ofGoogle has just put a half a million dollar telescope out there,”McKone said. “It also has the largest mirror telescope in thesoutheast, and the kids will have access to all that.”

The camp is a part of Co-Lin’s emphasis over the last few yearson the sciences, and getting children interested in science as acareer.

“We’re trying to get students interested in the sciences,” Davissaid. “We really want to reach out to the community and the kidsand get them interested not only in science but in Co-Lin.”

And as McKone said, so far, so good.

“We have basketball camps, softball camps, soccer camps, butreally none geared toward science, and I’ve been a big supporter ofgetting younger kids interested in science,” he said. “During thissecond year, the parents have been so appreciative of how theirkids come home and are talking about science and friction andcomputer programming. I think we’re making some headway there.”