Building robots at the Big Little Science Centre

The Big Little Science Centre’s Spring Robotics Club teaches creativity

LEGO Mindstorm kits, like the one pictured above, allow you to make a variety of fully functional robots. (Crossfire_/Flickr)

If you have kids with an interest in either computers or robotics, the Big Little Science Centre might have exactly what you’re looking for to keep them occupied this spring and summer. Starting today, the Spring 3D Design and Robotics Club will encourage children to design and program their own robots. 

The club makes use of LEGO Mindstorm kits, which feature all the necessary components to make your own functional robots. Using a variety of different LEGO bricks, club members will be able to make robots that can drive, walk, lift and tell temperature, among many other functions.

Though there is no set curriculum for the club, the Big Little Science Centre’s executive director, Gord Stewart, says that the club can be divided into two different aspects: building and programming.

“As normal, some kids are really good at building, but don’t like the programming. Then some kids like the programming, but not the building,” Stewart said. “So we try to get them to work off of each other and help each other, it’s a club. The idea is to make robots and make them do something, it doesn’t have to be overly practical.”

According to Stewart, the club has between 250 and 300 different predesigned LEGO parts to work with including motors and sensors.

“You can have up to three motors and four different sensors on a unit,” Stewart said. “With those motors and sensors, it can detect its environment, do sound, light, colour and temperature and a whole bunch of other options.”

The environment at the Big Little Science Centre is meant to be casual, Stewart says, with the idea being to give kids nine and up the ability to flex their creative muscles and become familiar with design and coding.

Though there aren’t necessarily team events for kids to compete in, members working at a higher level may be given the opportunity to complete more difficult challenges.

“We don’t get into team challenges per se, but if kids are looking for things to do, I’ll give them challenges to see if they can make a robot that could pull or push the most weight or how fast can you make one go,” Stewart said. “I might even make a challenge to see if they can make a robot tell me if my coffee’s hot enough.”

In addition to learning about designing and programming robots, club members will also be given the chance to learn about 3D design and the use of 3D printers.

The club, which has run for eight years, originally started as a simple request, Stewart said.

“It started because someone doing homeschool came to me and said, ‘I’m doing these LEGO robotics and I need some help’,” Stewart said. “I agreed and said I’d get some other kids involved and it went from there.”

Stewart believes that the club has since provided its attendants with some very practical skills in design, coding and creativity.

“It creates familiarity with design and building, being able to come up with something yourself or following instructions, these will definitely be talents moving forward,” he said.

The club runs every Thursday from 2:45 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. until June 9. Children must be ages nine or older to register. You can find out more about the club and registration by contacting Susan Hammond at 250-554-2572 or susan@blscs.org.

In addition to the club, a summer robotics camp with more structured challenges will run from July 23 to 27.