ARL mentors and coaches local students at TechBrick Robotics open house

March 27, 2012

Story Highlights

  • TechBrick held a live demonstration of robotics recently near APG.
  • Absolute Zero Electricity - FIRST Robotics Challenge team
  • ARL outreach efforts focuses on getting kids interested in STEM

Canby Motors in Aberdeen, Md. quickly filled up with visitors at the TechBrick Robotics open house on Feb. 13.

More than 200 people attended and were given the opportunity to observe live demonstrations of robots and view displays created by Harford and Cecil county students.

TechBrick Robotics was formed in 2003 and provides a wide range of programs that allow young people ages 7-18 the opportunity to learn more about science and technology. It runs under a program called FIRST, which was founded 20 years ago. The goal was to create a program that allows young students with a strong interest in technology and engineering to have the same type of encouragement as they would with organized sport programs.

One of ARL's outreach efforts focuses on TechBrick Robotics because its programs are aimed at getting kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) career choices.

"We think science, technology, engineering and math is really neat," said Col. Kirk Benson, chief of staff, Research Development and Engineering Command, as he addressed the students at the open house. "The STEM route is a way to make a great contribution to our country."

Thanks to the support from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, National Defense Program and JC Penney, TechBrick started a FIRST Robotics Challenge team this past year.

TechBrick's FIRST Robotics Challenge team 3941 - Absolute Zero Electricity - is a robotics team for middle and high school age students and is based in Aberdeen, Md. The students are coached and mentored by Dr. Christopher Hoppel, chief, Soldier Protection Sciences Branch, ARL, Weapons and Materials Research Directorate; Aaron Jackson of WMRD; Tim Mermagen of the Human Research and Engineering Directorate; Marco Ciavolino of Enktesis; and Steve Padgett, who's son Nick participates in the TechBrick Robotics program.

"These students have an awesome opportunity to take on a significant engineering challenge and cooperate as well as compete with other students from around the world through FIRST," said Hoppel. "FIRST uses the term 'coopertiition' to describe the process where teams help each other in the development of their robots, but then compete at regional events. It is a tremendous educational experience, and it would not be possible without the support of ARL, NDEP, and JC Penney."

Not all who coach or mentor are from the science and technology career field. Padgett, who works for DAP Products in Baltimore, Md., provides his carpentry and general building expertise.

"My family got interested in this program about two years ago during an Applebee's fund raiser," said Padgett. "One of my sons is on two robotics teams. Although I am not in the engineering field, I provide my support by building many of the field elements like the balance bridge and basketball hoops along with teaching team members how to properly use tools safely and efficiently."

Padgett also mentioned that the Boy Scouts now have a Robotics Merit Badge. One hundred of these badges were flown to the International Space Station aboard the 25th and final flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavor during STS-134, May 16-June 1, 2011, traveling more than 6.5 million miles in 248 orbits of earth. His son Nick earned the Merit Badge and won one of the special badges, which was displayed at the open house in a frame along with other mission momentos from NASA.


Last Update / Reviewed: March 27, 2012