Elijah Hilton, 11, a student at the summer Lego Robotics Camp held at the Exploration Station in Grover Beach, was completely immersed in programming his robot vehicle.
“It should never hit the wall,” Elijah said. He had programmed it to back off the wall with three directives: a loud sound, such as clapping; an ultrasonic sensor built into the robot; and touch. The wall was built from four planks in a square to contain the vehicle.
Elijah, from Arroyo Grande, then showed me on the computer how he had programmed his “bot.” Each robot has its own mini-computer, called an NXT “brick.” NXT software can be installed in a computer, which can be programmed to run the vehicle.
Gabriel Wilson, 9, from Atascadero, and Nathan Pollon, 11, from Arroyo Grande, were working together on their robot vehicle.
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“Our robot follows the black line (on a table). It zigzags back and forth, searching for the line,” explained Gabriel. Added Nathan, “If the light it shines out comes back, it figures out it’s on a (white) surface, which reflects back.”
The light sensor is on the bottom of the vehicle. The boys explained how they started with a motor and wheels, then “we added different sensors.”
Greg Randall, 62, moved to Arroyo Grande from Tehachapi more than two years ago after retiring from engineering and, later, clock repairing. He volunteered in the first Lego League program at the schools in Tehachapi, where students work in teams to build their own robot and then send the robot out to do “missions” on a big board.
“The excitement level at competitions was tremendous with loud music and kids jumping up and down,” Randall said. When he moved to South County, there was little for kids interested in robotics. 4-H provides a class in San Luis Obispo. Randall decided to offer a two-week camp this summer through the Exploration Station.
The NXT kits are on loan from Paulding Middle School, through the generosity of Gary Heckman, a seventh-grade tech teacher. The kids get so involved that several stay after class and “you can hardly pry them away,” Randall said.
Joel Brown, 16, an Arroyo Grande High School student, volunteers in the class. He is on the high school robotics team and participates in the worldwide First Robotics Competition.
Larkin Paddock, 9, from Oceano, was the only girl in the class. “I came here partly because grandma works here (Deborah Love, executive director of the Exploration Station), but I like it.”
Back to Elijah: He has now programmed his bot further. “It says, ‘Hello,’ but you can barely hear it.” He shows me his vehicle back in the plank square.His mom, Julie Hilton, came to pick Elijah up after class.
“He has been looking for a robot program through 4-H, and was excited when he learned about this one,” Hilton said with enthusiasm.Elijah is home-schooled and attends the Trivium Charter School two days a week near Arroyo Grande High School.
Besides teaching the Lego robot camp, Randall keeps himself busy in retirement by being a Big Brother, learning guitar and playing golf.
Gayle Cuddy and Cynthia Lambert write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cuddy at 805-489-1026 or firstname.lastname@example.org.