Young techies toy with robotics, future

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Brian Dickman keeps a Commodore 64 on a shelf as a constant reminder of his computer science roots.

The antiquated machine, now out of place among the modern electronics at Deep Space Workplace & Events Center, was a crucial component to Dickman’s future as a mechanical engineering and programming whiz. The Commodore 64 represented a fascinating world of possibilities when Dickman was 11 years old, and now he is sharing that passion with the next generation of programmers.

“I want this to be a memorable point in their development, where they look back and have a sense of accomplishment,” he says. “I want to help kids who … don’t have the resources or have not developed enough (knowledge).”

When opening Deep Space Workplace, a business that provides a co-working environment that promotes collaboration, Dickman also had an idea to create clubs based on STEAM education — or science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

The Deep Space Robotics Team, a 10-member group of boys and girls who gather each Thursday night, will spend the next three months preparing for a robotics competition for the Global LEGO League. They are in the process of using LEGO Mindstorm sets, which enable children to assemble robots and program them to accomplish tasks. Dickman says his goal is to be a “team coach and mentor” who is there to watch and “guide the kids into making their own discoveries.”

On Aug. 22, the group was setting up a village and putting together the pieces of an obstacle course they will be charged with conquering. Similarly, Dickman has blocked out every Monday for the rest of the year to have robotics camps at Deep Space Workplace. He will teach a two-hour class on how to use basic programming languages to issue commands to a “Sphero” robotics ball. The camp is designed for grades 4-8; Dickman is planning a series of camps for younger children next spring.

The teams foster the collaborative spirit that Dickman hopes will catch on with co-working offices, which have gained in popularity in large cities and on college campuses. He says making sure young kids have the tools to succeed is among his main focuses. 

“I’m most excited about taking someone who wants to learn and giving them as much access to new technology and new people to help them grow,” Dickman said.

Among those computer-aided engineering apprentices are Michael De La Pena, 13, and Trevor Rost, 12, who are members of the Deep Space Robotics Team. Both have an interest in LEGO robotics, and De La Pena, a Sagewood Middle School student who wants to be a computer programmer, says he wants to expand on the foundation of knowledge he already has.

Rost, who attends Parker Core Knowledge, knows he wants to go into the engineering field and took an interest in robotics two years ago. Joining the team is the latest step in his learning process.

Dickman has enjoyed success as founder or executive of a string of software companies, and although his latest career choice isn’t as lucrative, he’s having fun passing on his knowledge to those who will pursue great things in the future.

“It’s challenging, but really rewarding,” he says. “And the parents who have kids who need this are so grateful.”

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