Bringing Science and Engineering to Life: U.Va. Engineering School to Hold Middle School Robotics Camp

July 13, 2010 — Programming robots to create art or to navigate a mock urban environment are among the activities that area middle school students will take part in during the Systems Robotics Design Camp at the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science. More than 20 students will attend the camp starting July 26.

Now in its fourth year, the weeklong camp promotes a fun and educational atmosphere for student teams to engage in hands-on activities by designing and programming robotic systems.

"This camp is unique in its attention to bringing systems engineering concepts to life with robotics," said Reid Bailey, camp director and assistant professor in the Department of Systems and Information Engineering. "The main goal is to get kids excited about science, technology, engineering and math fields. We emphasize reaching kids who may have never considered engineering as an education or career path."

Students and faculty from U.Va.'s Engineering School mentor the campers on the technical robotics concepts – which, Reid said, "they pick up quickly."

The week's activities involve real problems, such as programming robots that can navigate streets of a model city or efficiently explore a Mars-like terrain. In addition, the campers create "robot art" and investigate how complex patterns can emerge from a small set of simple rules. Students will also engage their robots for in a lively soccer match at the end of the week.

"These students leave camp with a better understanding of what engineers do," Bailey said. "Hopefully they can envision themselves as the world's next engineers and begin taking steps in that direction."

Corporate sponsors Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman fund scholarships that make the camp accessible to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

This year's camp is full, but to be put on the list for the 2011 camp, e-mail jef2f@virginia.edu.

For information, visit www.sys.virginia.edu/camp/.

— by Zak Richards