Mia Martinez watched as her Lego robot paced around a square, duct tape track. The small vehicular robot shimmied down one side, turned and continued around the track over and over.
“It’s like a track around a Christmas tree,” Mia, 16, said with a laugh.
Mia is one of 12 high school students who are part of the Digital Simulation and Robotics Summer Camp at the University of Houston-Victoria this week.
The camp is one of several that are funded by a $30,000 grant from the Alcoa Foundation, said Lauren Hightower- Emerson, a spokeswoman with UHV.
Through the camp, students will learn about basic robotics, engineering and programming. Andrew Polasek, a UHV graduate student in computer science assisting in the camp, said campers are learning about programming and robotics with software by Lego. Monday, the campers learned about the basics of programming a robot.
The objective for the day was for the robot to run through a square track marked with reflective duct tape. The robot, which has a sensor in the front of it, should follow the reflected path according to the program the campers build.
“The campers learn about programming, but the project also tests their critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills,” Polasek said.
For Mia, the most difficult part of the project is building the program. Mia, who will be a junior at Calhoun High School in Port Lavaca, is a member of the Crab-Bots robotics team and has a little experience with coding and robotics. She would like to pursue a career in programming.
“I like making things. It makes me feel proud of myself and the work that I do,” she said.
So far, the camp has taught Mia that programming and robotics is a hit-and-miss learning experience, she said.
On the other side of the lab, Bloomington High School sophomore Travis Cunningham ran different variables through the program so his robot could make tighter turns on the square track.
Travis, 15, said he had not worked on a program or a robot before the camp. He’s learned small changes can make a big difference in what a robot does, he said.
“I wanted to try something different this summer, and I want to go to college to study engineering, so this camp is helping me learn about robots and engineering,” said Travis, 15. “It’s been a good learning experience already; it is a lot of trial and error.”
Polasek said the type of beginning program the campers are learning is a good introduction to robotics and engineering. Though the robots the campers have created are small, those who pursue a field in engineering and robotics will be able to work on machines such as self-driving cars, he said.
“People are going to need robot experts in the future – this is a good start,” he said.