Team 1595 members mentor younger students at robotics camp
Written by Macklin Richardson, senior at Saint George's and captain of the Robotics Team 1595
For a couple of years running now, the older members of the Saint George’s School robotics team (Team 1595) have run a summer STEM camp in the summer for younger students. The camp is a week-long and focus on key engineering and robotics skills. Each year has been different, this year followed that trend. Earlier this spring, my friends and I debated about what the theme of our camp would be, all the while drinking soda and racing RC cars in the kitchen. It was then we decided to do an RC car modification camp. The camp preparation required finding a cheap source of model RC cars. We decided on some cheap plastic Bugatti Veyron models from a source in China.
In the weeks before the camp us high school student mentors worked on prototyping with the car to figure out what projects we would have the “campers” do. We decided on our camp goal as such: to convert a store-bought RC car into an autonomous driving robot capable of being programmed and outfitted with various sensors; all using a small onboard Arduino open-source computer board. At the beginning of the camp week we had 5 students and 5 high-school robotics team helpers. A nice ratio as we soon found out. The campers varied in skill level, work speed, and interest.
The first activity we had them do was to open their cars and let them drive around, as we could tell it was torturous for the campers to not unbox the racecars. Next, we did some basic work with the Arduino circuit boards, practicing programming, uploading code, wiring up various LED lights and sensors, all while giving the students an overall view of what they were working with. As the days progressed, the mentors were surprised at how fast the campers were progressing through the given tasks. We ended up being way ahead of schedule by the end of Tuesday. By Wednesday, the campers had successfully “hijacked” the small RC car motor controller and motors with their Arduino boards and begun adding simple programs for the car to perform. To do this the students had to learn to Solder, make circuits, learn basic mechanical components, use simple tools, and learn basic programming skills. By Thursday, all the students had almost complete control over their RC Cars and had attached several useful sensors that they perfected the use of throughout the previous days. Among these, were ultrasonic sensors for wall detection, Infrared light sensors for color sensing and line following, and some students even managed to add gyroscopic sensors for more advanced navigational capabilities.
While some “campers” worked faster than others all could accomplish the goal of the camp and had time to do some aesthetic modifications to their vehicles including, LED lights, and 3D printed parts. Given that all the students moved so quickly through the tasks, on Friday the “campers” were given time to perfect their programs for a “Sumo Competition” at the end of the day. Here they would “fight” 1 on 1 against each other and try to bump into the other robot inside a ring to score points. While this challenge may sound simple it required the culmination of the entire weeks’ worth of technical skills that they each learned.
It is camps like these that allow students to gain more interest and relieve some of the mystery that comes with engineering skills. We hope, as high school students, that our campers will eventually lead these camps for kids when they are older like we have done. Overall, these camps have been a key component in introducing kids into STEM activities and showing them the joys of design and building.