NANTICOKE — Nathan Sipple had no problem when the instructor advised that the specific Lego piece he wanted wasn’t available.
“Are you making it yourself?” fellow robot developer Jared Haines asked. “Yeah,” Nathan answered, quickly snapping other pieces together. Jared smiled, did the smallest of fist pumps and said “Creativity!”
Which pretty much sums up the goal of the Lego robotics camps being held this month at Luzerne County Community College. The boys were one of children ages nine through 11 participating in morning classes this week. Working in teams of three, they used a small Lego programmable computer to run motors that spun wheels in precise increments.
The trick: Translate the amount of rotation for the diameter of wheels chosen into lengths — two rotations to travel one foot, instructor Kelly McCarthy, a high school teacher in Shamokin, said.
Traveling in straight lines was easy enough; turns tended to trip up the teams as they frequently programmed to much spin into one wheel, over-steering the 90-degree maneuvers required by the “maze” — a path marked out with masking tape on the rug.
Sarah Evans, a 9-year-old from Hunlock Township, had a solution: Nudge the errant ‘bot back on course with her foot or hand, then declare victory. When their machine seemed to navigate half the course with relative accuracy, the all-girl team jumped and whooped with glee, a reaction cooled a little on a second run when the robot spun close to 180 degrees instead of the required 90.
“That’s okay,” she said perkily. But it kept spinning.
“How is THAT okay,” teammate Elissa Evans, a 10-year old also from Hunlock Township, asked as the trio went back to the laptop used to program the Lego computer.
The ultimate goal was to scoop up several pencils held together by rubber bands and take them through the maze.
Nathan and company had overcome the lack of a key Lego piece and devised a sort of plow with a latch that seemed to work, until one of them pointed out that Nathan had manually clipped the pencils into the latching part, rather than having the robot do it.
McCarthy offered an honest aside: “That’s fine. Programming it to get through the maze is the hardest part.”
Don’t let age fool you. Some of these children were Lego veterans. “I have them at home,”Jared said. “But a lot of sets were destroyed when I was a little rough with them.”
Isn’t the point of Legos that you could disassemble and rebuild? “Yeah,” he conceded, “But I lost pieces.”
And yes, many of them saw the hit Lego movie. “I want it on DVD” Jared said. “I Have it on DVD,” Nathan boasted. His two teammates turned to him with grins.
“Can we come over your house?”