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Robots Come to Life at Camp for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students

Future scientists and computer wizards have been busy at Rochester Institute of Technology creating, programming and performing experiments with their very own robots they will bring home with them.

DRobotZ is a two-week summer camp for deaf and hard-of-hearing students entering 9th or 10th grade in the fall and who are interested in learning more about math, science, technology and  computing.

Nine students from across the country participated in the camp, made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Faculty members from RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf taught classes and served as mentors.

DRobotZ director Mark Wambach says deaf students entering college often are underprepared for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses. That tends to discourage them from pursuing majors and careers in those fields. This camp hopes to motivate students at a younger age so they can better focus on a major and career in those fields if that’s where their interest lies.

The robots resemble small remote-controlled cars, but have more agility and abilities.

“Their robots have the ability to see distance, light and dark, hear and react to sound and to sense touch,” Wambach says.

During one of the final days of the camp, Alessandro “A.J.” Ryan, 17, of Hamilton Square, N.J., kept busy on a laptop computer, changing a program for his robot to complete an obstacle course. His Lego NXT 2 robot would stop and detect a black taped outline on the floor, turn when it heard Ryan clap or yell, and back up if it touched a brick.

Ryan has always had an interest in robots and joined a robotics team at his high school. When he learned about DRobotZ at RIT/NTID, he signed right up.

“I’ve always been interested in science and wanted to meet other people like me who share the same interests as I do,” he says.

After two weeks of learning different tasks his robot can do, he’s now even more motivated. He plans to continue challenging his robot after he takes it home, using a program to make it solve a Rubik’s Cube puzzle.

“This camp has made me a good problem solver,” he says. “I really had a great time and it helped me focus on my interests.”

Connor Crichton, 15, of Frankenmuth, Mich., attended a TechBoyz summer camp at RIT/NTID and returned for DRobotZ because “I thought it’d be interesting to do. At the beginning, I felt it would be impossible to make a robot, but after a few fixes, it turned out all right.”

Marshall Hurst, of Vineland, Ontario, Canada, hoped to use his interest in science someday to operate his own vineyard.

“This has been a great experience for me,” he said. “I felt a sense of relief and accomplishment when I did it.”

Abraham Glasser, 15, of Pittsford, N.Y., says he’s considering becoming a mathematician or an engineer. He said his robot was easy to build.

“I’m a fast learner. And the programming was relatively easy for me,” he says. “It’s been fun. I’ve learned a lot about possible careers and all different fields.”

The campers spent part of one afternoon visiting a nearby company that specializes in using technology for security. In the evenings, they socialized by going bowling, watching a captioned movie and going to an amusement park. They plan to keep in touch long after the camp ends.

Wambach hopes the program will grow; he’s applied for an additional grant to enable the camp to continue for the next three years. He expects to know whether the grant will be awarded this fall.

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