Robots ready to rally in Parker

Inaugural robotics event planned for May 16 at Mainstreet Center

Posted 5/5/15

Like the glow of a robot switched on for the first time, the kids’ faces light up one by one.

It’s sometimes known as the “eureka” or “a-ha!” moment — bulbs illuminating with the discovery of something new. This is the future, and …

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Robots ready to rally in Parker

Inaugural robotics event planned for May 16 at Mainstreet Center

Posted

Like the glow of a robot switched on for the first time, the kids’ faces light up one by one.

It’s sometimes known as the “eureka” or “a-ha!” moment — bulbs illuminating with the discovery of something new. This is the future, and the future is now. The world of robotics is unfolding at a mind-numbing pace as children as young as 5 become programmers, mechanical engineers and critical thinkers.

Such innovation is being fostered at the grassroots level by a group of techies at Deep Space Workplace & Event Center in downtown Parker. The business offers robotics classes and clubs for kids, teens and adults with eyes and minds for imagination. And now it is launching its first robotics competition, the 2015 Parker Rover Rally on May 16 at the Mainstreet Center.

The only mandate, says event creator Brian Dickman, was that anyone could compete with four hours or more of effort on their project.

In recent months, kids have been getting a crash course in assembling and programming autonomous vehicles through classes at the Parker Arts, Culture and Events Center and during open work sessions at Deep Space. Those new to the applications are often surprised by what they can do and become hooked within the first two hours of the class.

The students unplug the speed and steering control mechanisms on remote-control trucks and plug in a programmable board with a fresh set of commands.

“They write the code that says ‘go this speed, turn this direction for this amount of time,’ and are basically sending a signal to tell it to go,” says Dickman, the owner of Deep Space Workplace, a co-working center by day and event center by night.

At the Rover Rally, participants will be challenged to make a pre-programmed vehicle complete a figure-8 around barrels placed 18 feet apart. There is also a closest-to-the-pin competition that further tests the programmer’s ability to be exact. The finale involves a long jump ramp launch with a surprise to cap off the inaugural rally.

A few vehicles are sponsored in a “quirky kind of NASCAR arrangement” and will have plastic shells that reflect the nature of the business, Dickman said. For example, a car sponsored by a coffeehouse will look like a cup of cappuccino.

“It’s like NASCAR, only if the car for Wonder Bread actually looked like Wonder Bread,” he said.

The Rover Rally, which is being put on in conjunction with the Town of Parker, was inspired by a trip last year to the 2014 Sparkfun Autonomous Vehicle Competition by Dickman and a handful of students and club members. He wanted to create a crowd-friendly competition in Parker that’s more accessible and open to all ages. Dickman hopes it will become an annual event.

With the rising popularity of platforms like LEGO Mindstorm that mix play with education and creativity, regular competitions seem likely.

The Rover Rally — from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the parking lot of the Mainstreet Center, 19650 E. Mainstreet — is free and open to the public. It will include an expo with hands-on robotics demonstrations, a pit area where competitors can make programming adjustments, and other booths that invite visitors into a world of discovery.

For more information, go to www.theroverrally.com.

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