U.Va. Engineering School to Hold Middle School Robotics Camp

July 6, 2009 — Middle school students from the Charlottesville area will take part in a Systems Robotics Design Camp at the University of Virginia School of Engineering starting July 13.

The camp promotes a fun and educational atmosphere for the students to work in teams and become engaged in hands-on activities involving the design and programming of robotic systems.

"An underlying philosophy of looking at systems is unique to this camp," said Reid Bailey, assistant professor in the Department of Systems and Information Engineering. "The root objective is to get kids interested in science, technology, engineering and math fields. There is a real attempt to interest kids who might not realize they want to pursue engineering."

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

The week's activities involve real problems, such as programming robots with simple rules so they can navigate streets of a model city or efficiently explore an area. In addition, the campers create "robot art" and investigate how complex patterns can emerge from a small set of straightforward rules. Students also can look forward to programming their robots for a spirited soccer match at the end of the week.

"The kids leave knowing a lot more about what engineers do," Bailey said. "It is no longer a foreign thing; it's a familiar thing that, if they choose to, they can be involved in."

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

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

— By Kathryn Welsh