The entrance hall of Penn’s Singh Center for Nanotechnology was filled with students of all ages.
FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC) teams from different area schools were demonstrating their human sized robots. Stands lined the walls displaying different technology projects. One of the stands manned by South Philadelphia makerspace NextFab Studio contained a 3D printer that was producing miniature green replicas of City Hall.
Seemingly everywhere were members of Central High School’s RoboLancers robotics team. They were running workshops, leading tours and recording the event.
The RoboLancers were hosting the fourth annual Philadelphia Robotics Expo. On Friday, April 4, 460 students from 70 groups and organizations and 23 different schools attended the event.
“I believe that having students teach students at a high level demonstrates what they can do if they work hard enough,” said Daniel Ueda, the RoboLancers FIRST robotics coach, a physics teacher at Central High School and reigning Geek of the Year.
Sixty-six members, or about half of the RoboLancers volunteered at the expo as well as two adult coaches, four college mentors and additional members of Penn’s faculty and student body. When not engaged with robotics or programming workshops attendees could take tours of Penn’s GRASP Robotics Lab where they could see robots like Rhex and the modular SMORES going through their paces. Visitors could even high-five a humanoid PR 2 robot in the Haptic Lab. University students fielded questions and stressed the importance of math and physics education.
“Our primary goal,” said Ueda, “is to inspire kids to get interested in STEM fields and to be more motivated in school because of their experience at PRX.”
The efforts of Ueda and other robotics coaches across the city seem to be paying dividends.
“We have noticed an uptick in robotics teams and general enthusiasm for robotics in the area,” said Ueda.
Robotics became so big at Central High that they had to split the teams into two.
“Robotics has become a huge club in our school,” said P.J. Lorenc, a sophomore member of the RoboLancers FTC team. “At the moment our club hovers around the 100- 120 member mark. We ended up creating two teams after we realized one team of 60 people would not be fun, so we split everyone up into two teams, Crimson and Gold. This created an interesting, and fun rivalry between the two teams, who thrive on each other’s smack talking. It’s an awesome experience really, trying to beat your own friends for bragging rights.”
Steven Choe, a senior at Central High School assisted with some of the advanced and intermediate level electromechanical workshops. Choe has been with the team for four years.
“I first learned about the team when walking by the team’s trophy case in the school’s basement,” Choe said. “It displayed multiple awards the team had won, as well as an entire mural of photographs taken during different competitions, build seasons, outreach events, or just when members were having a good time with each other. Later on my friend at the time convinced me that I should join. Although somewhat intimidating starting as a new member on the team, I quickly adjusted to the open, friendly atmosphere.”
After graduating, Steven will pursue a degree in electro engineering at Penn State.
When asked if he thought the Robotics Expo was a success, Ueda responded, “We decreased our attendance numbers because of limitations at Penn’s facilities, especially at the GRASP lab. Last year, we were around 750 at Drexel. In the end we felt that the smaller numbers helped give more focus to individual students. Our metric though is not how many kids we have at the event, it’s the feedback we get from parents and kids during and after the day.”
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