PHOTO COURTESY OF LEGO SYSTEMS
COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE Kids are geeking out over high-tech Legos that can be assembled into robots and programmed to do all sorts of tasks. The Dandelion Sucker Robot, the Orchard Spray Reduction Robot and the Hood River Bridge Bicycle and Pedestrian Transport Robot, which carries bikes and walkers across the car-friendly span, are all machines that were devised, discussed and modeled by clever students in Hood River. “We are just inventing robotic solutions for the things people talk about,” says Aram Soghikian, a local robotics engineer who works with kids in the Gorge Robotics Club.
Robotics education in the Gorge got new wind last fall when Google gave $43,000 to two groups in The Dalles for Lego Mindstorms. Kids ages 6 to 18 use the kits to build robots out of sensors, motors and Legos that can be programmed using simplified software.
Mindstorms kits teach kids basic computer programming without being intimidating, and robots get kids interested in technology and science, says Dave Karlson, manager of Google’s data center in The Dalles. Google is one of many local tech giants supporting robotics for kids, along with the robotic aircraft-maker Insitu and other members of the growing Gorge Technology Alliance.
And young robot inventors may become future Insitu and Google engineers. The Lego software is not so different from what many pros use, says Soghikian. Do robots jumpstart mechanical engineering careers? “A huge yes,” he says.