Some of the students participating in the week-long robotics camps held last week at North Island College show off their robot

Lego robotics camp at NIC

NIC hosted a lego robotics camp for youth Aug. 22-26.

Anyone who doesn’t think science is fun should have been at North Island College (NIC) last Friday to see the looks on the kids faces as they showed off the robots they had built out of Lego and programmed to perform certain tasks.

The week-long robotics camps wrapped up their Island-wide tour at NIC’s Campbell River campus last week, were very well attended, and organizers and sponsors are already in plans to put them on again next year.

Naomi Tabata, manager at the Centre for Applied Research, Technology and Innovation (CARTI) at NIC, says she was thrilled to have the opportunity to be involved in putting them on.

CARTI recently opened a remote science lab at NIC’s Comox Valley campus – to which people can log on and program/operate robots from anywhere in the world – and these camps were the perfect opportunity to give kids right here in our area the fundamental tools to be able to do just that.

“The why and the how of this starting is that we have the remote science lab, and one of the neat things they’ve started doing there is building robots in the lab that students can log into, upload the program they wrote at home and watch – on all these 360-degree cameras – the program they wrote,” Tabata says. “It’s really neat technology, and it’s a great use of it, because it’s a way to gets kids programming and coding without having the expense of these robot kits.”

Another reason they wanted to run these camps, however, was simply to get more kids engaged in science and technology.

“We’re really interested in building tech in the North Island, whether that’s supporting tech companies or innovation, we recognize that the jobs of the future are going to be – in a way we can’t even imagine – related to technology, and we want to prepare the community for that,” Tabata says. “One way to do that is to talk about it, and these camps have been a great venue to have that conversation. We get kids interested in programming and coding, we get their parents talking about it. Communities as a whole are really excited when we bring these camps to town.”

In total, 139 kids attended the week-long robotics camps as they toured around the North Island, including 39 low-income students who received a subsidy to attend. The students learned the basics of computer programming – as well as solving engineering problems – to build and “train” robots to perform various tasks. These were as simple as navigating a simple maze by “seeing” the sides and making adjustments to throwing or shooting balls at bowling pins or stacking blocks using a forklift-type robotic creation.

“We’re definitely hoping to do it again next summer,” Tabata says. “We had overwhelming support everywhere we went. It was also super fun,” she adds with a laugh. “It was just amazing to see what these kids were coming up with and watch them think outside the box.”

“In talking to some of the parents, it sounds like everyone really enjoyed it,” agrees Joan Miller of the Creative Industries Council, one of the sponsors of the robotics camps. “We’re looking forward to encouraging these type of workshops continuing – we’re already planning more for 2017, in fact.”

Miller, like Tabata, says it’s important to foster this type of creative, technological thinking in young minds as we try to foster the development of creative industry in our region.

“We feel our region is ripe to expand this kind of opportunity, and echo that expansion with the kinds of opportunities we give our kids,” Miller says. “It was wonderful to be a part of.”

The students who took part in the camps will soon be receiving information about how to log onto the remote science lab from wherever they are in the world so they will be able to continue fostering their love of science and technology whenever they wish. After all, as Tabata says, “what would be cooler than logging onto a robot when you’re waiting around in an airport for a flight and making it do stuff?”

For more information on the camps, including how you could become a sponsor of a future iteration of the program, contact Tabata at Naomi.Tabata@nic.bc.ca