Bed-Stuy Kids Use Robotics to Solve Real World Problems

By Paul DeBenedetto on January 6, 2014 1:44pm 

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 DIVAS for Social Justice is sending a group of kids ages 9 to 14 to a robotics tournament on Saturday.
DIVAS for Social Justice Robotics
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — They may use toys, but they're not playing around.

A group of Bed-Stuy kids will compete in a battle for robot supremacy on Saturday as part of a competition aimed at teaching youngsters to solve real-world problems with robotics.

The fourth annual FIRST LEGO League pits teams of kids ages 9 to 14 in a head-to-head robotics competition, and one of those teams will represent Bed-Stuy nonprofit DIVAS For Social Justice this weekend in the tournament's Brooklyn qualifier.

The eight kids learned how to build, program and operate their own Lego robots and have to use those skills to solve problems set up by the competition's judges, said Andrea Taylor, a computer science professor from Pace University who helped teach the kids how to engineer the machines.

"We're looking at real-world impacting problems," Taylor said. "It's preparing them to think about a career in these fields of science, technology, engineering and even encompassing the arts."

The competition called for the young engineers to design a toy robot that could help out in a model-sized "natural disaster."

The miniature-scale, all-terrain machine is tasked with clearing Lego debris and rescuing trapped Lego pedestrians on a small gaming table, decorated to look like it's being battered by stormy weather. With each completed mission, teams rack up points.

Also as part of the competition, the group had to come up with an innovation they would use to help out during a real disaster.

The kids came up with a design for a truck that would help residents of storm-battered housing developments like the Coney Island Houses to charge cellphones and contact loved ones with wireless internet.

Throughout the engineering process, Taylor said the kids' imagination took center stage as they came up with solutions the professor said she didn't realize were possible.

The result, Taylor said, was that the adults learned an important lesson, even as they taught the children.

"There's no idea that's too fantastic," Taylor said.

The FIRST LEGO League Brooklyn qualifier takes place Saturday at NYU-Poly, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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