Kids Get Hands-On Science Lessons at 'Robot Garage'


     Two dozen kids were given a chance to test their team-working skills, imagination and patience over the weekend as they designed and built their own exploration rovers at the Homer Public Library.

     Everyone knows robots are awesome. And as 24 kids learned during Saturday’s “Robot Garage,” they come in many different forms. There are robots that perform tasks human don’t want to like vacuuming, and even those that are programmed to play games like ping pong. The Seattle Museum of Flight’s Marina Hernandez explained how the machine, which looks a bit like Robocop, actually works.

     “The robot, which is called Topio, has two cameras. And these cameras help it to know where the ping pong ball is traveling, and then help it to position its arm in the right spot. Something else special about him,” Hernandez said, “is that he has something called artificial intelligence. Not all robots have artificial intelligence. For Topio, it means he gets better each time he plays ping pong.”

     She provided a seminar for the kids by satellite and discussed the history of the machines, where the word “robot” originally came from, science fiction, of course, and handed out their mission. The children would get into teams of two or three and build a rover, similar to the machines scientists have landed on Mars. 

     The teams had no instruction manuals. All they had to work with was a kit with plastic pieces, five motors, wires and a control panel. The rover had to move back and forth and be able to pick up objects.

     The three-man team of Xander, Charlie and Austin first tested the speeds of their motors and devised a plan.

     As Denver and Eric worked, they came across a major flaw: their wires popped out of the motors consistently. Nevertheless, the two of them made it work.

     After all the teams completed their robots, they gathered around a square to test them out by clamping onto small objects and carrying them out of the square. For the most part the robots performed the task without a hitch, though there was one troublemaker: Bob, the killer robot.

     At the end of the day, all the kids said they loved that they could spend the afternoon building a robot, but they would prefer wireless robots for next time.