© 2000 The Seattle Times Company
Local News : Friday, June 30, 2000
Camp isn't what it used to be
by Frank Vinluan
Seattle Times staff reporter
so long ago, summer-camp projects weren't much more technical than a box
of Popsicle sticks and a jar of paste.
Now it's gears and circuits and wireless cameras.
For 11 "Cybercampers" at the University of Washington, the
summer project is building a prototype of a Martian rover. Campers
paraded their camera-equipped rovers around a mock Martian landscape
yesterday in a demonstration of robotics with the latest in
"I like it because it's really hands-on work," said
14-year-old Scott Shawcroft of Kingston. "I can't just sit at a
computer; I like hands-on stuff."
Cybercamps, a Kirkland-based firm that provides technological
education for kids, operates 22 summer camps throughout the United
In the Cybercamps robotics course, students build their own
robot, program it and watch it operate. Powered by a 9-volt battery, the
robots maneuver by sensing objects with either infrared or tactile
sensors. Infrared sensors send and receive a beam, which the robot can
use to detect objects in its path.
The tactile sensors are wires called "whiskers" that
trigger robots to move in a different direction when they encounter an
After observing their robots in action, some campers modified them.
More ambitious campers equipped their robots with both whiskers and
infrared sensors. Others looked for different ways to tinker with their
robots. Keith Gillis, 13, programmed his to play the theme from
Camp instructors provide a technological foundation, but the campers
take it from there, said Ben Babcock, curriculum developer for Cybercamps.
"I taught him (Gillis) how to make a program to make sound, but
I didn't teach him how to make music," Babcock said.
Babcock was looking for a different approach to robotics when he
thought of mounting the robots with cameras that could simulate what a
Mars rover might do. A Seattle company, X10 Wireless Technology, Inc. donated
the wireless cameras.
Mounted on each robot, the cameras transmit images from the rover's
perspective to a television monitor and a Web site, technological
applications that can be used in anything from home security to
monitoring a baby.
But practicality was far from the campers' minds yesterday as they
tinkered with their programs.
"The kids are the ones who create these things," Babcock
said. "You know how kids are, they always think of things we