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Competition, collaboration showcased at Ridgely Robotics Camp

The LEGO Group

Students won't be starting back at Ridgely Middle School for another week, but the boisterous energy and collaborative thought displayed by students at the school's Robotics Camp snapped the school out of its summer calm Friday at the end-of-camp competition.

"I think they made a lot of progress in terms of building the robots, but it's always a challenge when you put a group of kids together and say, 'make this happen,' " teacher Greg Kallaur said. "They were all able to compete. Some teams were better than others, but they were able to get out there, compete and work as a team, and that was really our primary goal — along with introducing them to robotics and programming."

Participants at the weeklong camp, which doubled in size to 30 students from its launch last year, represent a growing sector of central Baltimore County students who are participating in robotics activities.

"Interest is growing all around the system," Kallaur said.

At the camp, students first learned basic computer programming. Then, they spent Tuesday assembling preliminary stock constructions, prior to building their final models.

Kallaur, however, said he and fellow camp leader Michael Satzinger designed a competitive game to deliberately fail the stock robots, thereby forcing teams to work together to modify their robots to suit the competition.

After seeing the game for the first time Wednesday, Aug. 14, the teams spent the rest of the week altering and tweaking their robots before Friday's competition, which was attended by dozens of participants' family members.

The game pitted teams of two robots against teams of two other robots with points awarded when the remote-controlled robots lifted a set of plastic balls and hoops inside a squared competition area.

After a series of round robin matches, a team that included Owen Goffigan, 11, of Lutherville, Bill Fan, 12, of Timonium, Patrick Campbell, 12, of White Marsh, and Paul Lindefeld, 12, of Timonium, emerged as the most successful.

The team won six of its eight matches, with one tie and one loss. Paul said the team was successful because members made alterations during the final days of camp.

The stock model robot included only a claw to lift the plastic balls, but the winning team gave itself an advantaged by expanding both the claw and the rack on top of the robot

Teams were awarded points for removing plastic balls from their team's respective rings, but they could also scoop up their opponent's rings to prevent them from scoring points.

Another team, its robot called "War Machine," named after the character in Iron Man, used a similar strategy with success. That team also added stabilizing support beams on the bottom of its robot to prevent other teams from flipping the robot said Rene DeBrabander, 12, of Towson.

The students said Friday's end-of-camp competition was an enjoyable end to an informative week, no matter how they ended up in the contest.

Owen, a rising fifth-grader at Lutherville Lab Elementary, said after the competition that building robots has been a hobby of his since he got his first Lego robotics set. When his teammate, Patrick, signed up, he thought that's what they would be using.

"It's totally different," Patrick said of the Vex robotics equipment they used. "As the week went on, I started to really like this camp and what they do here."

Their teammate, Bill, said he had never built a robot before, but enjoyed the experience nonetheless.

With the start of the school year just a week away, parents said the camp was a good way to get the students mentally challenged before classes begin.

"I thought it was good timing because there usually aren't a lot of camps around this time," said, Kemi Osias, a Timonium resident whose son, 10-year-old Didier, attended the camp. "It's something that's enjoyable, and makes you use your physics skills, problem-solving and logic skills."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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