Ed Mullin was nearly the happiest person in the room for a moment on Sunday afternoon.
Mullin, the executive director of the Baltimore Robotics Center, said he had long brought his so-called “street robotics” to events like those during Baltimore Innovation Week. But this was the first time one of those events was in the robotics center’s well-hidden digs in Hollins Market.
The event, he said, could get kids and parents interested in robotics and in pushing their schools to take advantage of the robotics programs offered via Baltimore’s public schools.
“You can find teachers that will stay after for basketball practice, football practice or theater,” he said. “I think a lot of people don’t know the equipment’s free.”
Robopalooza was a partnership between his organization, FutureMakers and MAGFest, with help from Venturing Crew 314 (yes, they picked pi for a reason).
Mullin also has a long game in mind — in his day job as vice president of IT strategy for Mind Over Machines, he said his company is often forced to hire from abroad to fill local vacancies. Robotics is an accessible gateway for kids from low-income backgrounds that could lead to STEM professions.
“One of the reasons I love this sport is it’s a digital-divide breaker,” he said. “You don’t need a Ph.D. to compete effectively.”
Baltimore City public schools can request a robot kit from school headquarters, by way of the VEX Robotics Program, but a teacher must be willing to sponsor the team, and teams need to meet for at least four hours each week, so buy-in is needed from parents as well.
Keimmie Booth is the crew president for Venturing Crew 314. Venturing is a gender-neutral program of the Boy Scouts of America, but unlike most of their scouting counterparts, Crew 314 has been on precisely one camping trip. Rather than a church or school, they meet at the robotics center and focus on their shared interest in robotics.
“That’s why we came up with the number 314,” Booth said. “We want to get kids involved in the workforce in STEM.”
Booth spent much of her afternoon playing teacher/referee as kids worked the remote-controlled robots in the middle of the room. At at least one point, she stopped two visitors from trying to turn the event into “Robot Wars.”
Robopalooza came with suggested donations of $8 for adults or $5 for children, with proceeds benefitting the Robotics Center. The event raised more than $800 in reserved tickets on Eventbrite, though it wasn’t clear how many adults or children were set to attend.
Either way, Mullin has his eyes on his next event, a return of an earlier competition where local executives (like Mindgrub’s Todd Marks) completed VEX challenges with the mentorship of youngsters.
“The CEOs were like, ‘When are we going to do this again?’”
Mullin said he hopes the kids there Sunday will say the same.