Middle schoolers turn into roombas

Thirty-seven middle school students from Boston, Cambridge, and Lawrence, Massachusetts, participated recently in a hands-on robotics workshop with 27 undergraduate student, graduate student, and young professional mentors at MIT. Engineers from iRobot joined the students and mentors to demonstrate several of their products, ranging from the popular Roomba vacuum cleaning robot to more advanced robots that facilitate remote collaboration and provide situational awareness in military settings.

The workshop – part of the STEM Mentoring Program hosted by the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs – gave students a glimpse into the complexity of programming robots. “Robots don’t start out with minds of their own,” says STEM Program Coordinator Catherine Park. “There is a lot of work that goes into enabling robots to do the things they do.”

Along with learning about iRobot products, students and and their mentors took part in an activity that demonstrated some basic principles of programming. The group worked in teams to write pseudo-codes and then followed those codes to traverse a grid and pick up items, much like the Roomba does.

Students left with a broader understanding of robots and the work that engineers do. “It’s empowering for students to learn about programming robots because it can help them view themselves as builders of technology rather than mere consumers,” Park says. “I hope this day brought robots from their imagination to reality.”