Kids plug in to robotics at HCC in Brandon
BRANDON - Robotics offers today’s students something they all seem to love – instant gratification. Program a command and watch the robot respond. Follow the ball, solve the Rubik’s cube, race toward a row of water bottles. Dozens of students from elementary through college poured in to Hillsborough Community College’s student center in Brandon earlier this week to learn about the possibilities of robotics. Some were there just for the fun of it. Others already have their eyes on a career in engineering, programming and the like. “We’re celebrating National Robotics Week with an open house to show the community what robotics is for and to highlight our summer camps,” said Marilyn Barger, executive director of the Florida Advanced Technological Education Center of Excellence, or FLATE.The center was established in 2004 through a National Science Foundation grant to focus on improving science, technology, engineering and mathematics education to meet the needs of the country’s technical workforce. The center makes sure schools are teaching the skills that employers are looking for so companies will be able to find the high-tech work force they need, Barger said. “We focus on the technology associate’s degree that supports advanced technology across the country,” Barger said. “Almost all industry uses some kind of robotics.” Darla Moore, 9, of Riverview came to check out what her brother’s been doing for a few years now, learning robotics. Julian Moore, 11, learned programming through Tech Playzone in Riverview. Later, the team he joined won a state competition for Lego robotics. Darla said she wants to take one of the robotics summer camps offered at HCC. John Villasmil, a member of the FLATE staff, demonstrated a humanoid robot named Brandon, who can follow a red ball on the ground, sit, stand and speak a few sentences. “This will be part of our summer camps,” he said. Radhames Heredia, 14 and his brother, Abraham Heredia, 12, both of Mango, attended the open house to see what the program was all about. “We like the programming and controlling,” Radhames Heredia said. Daryl Bagley, 17, a Strawberry Crest student, will help out with the summer camps. His mother, Desh Bagley, who owned Tech Playzone in Riverview, is now working for HCC in the robotics program, as well as doing her own classes on the side. He said most kids come in new to the camps and are enthusiastic to learn. “Most of them like programming, but they also like that they make the robots from Lego’s because that is something they are already familiar with,” he said. The FRC Minotaur robotics team also came to the open house with their competition robot. Their machine can toss Frisbees and hang from a pyramid. Next year, competitors will get new tasks and will have to program the machine accordingly. Students in the club are from Middleton and Strawberry Crest high schools. Next school year, Hillsborough High will join, said the club’s coach Rich Bergland, whose son, Nick Bergland, is in the club. Rich Bergland said club members – mostly students interested in engineering -- build, design and test their robots before competition, all skills they can use as they travel down their learning paths. Robotics development is multifaceted, Barger said. Kids that get involved in these programs can wind their way through programming and mechanical engineering and who knows? One day, they might be working in the University of South Florida’s new Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation in downtown Tampa, where doctors can learn how to use robotics in surgery. To learn more, visit www.FL-ATE.org.