Right now, a robot known as the lobster is being controlled by the directional arrows on a laptop computer, but one day, it might be able to think on its own. This is the kind of technology high school kids are getting hands-on experience with at the Vermont Fabrication Laboratory-- or its scientific name-- The Fab Lab.
"There is success; very good levels early on. That drives them and gets them excited," said Michael Fortney, a UVM research engineer.
Fortney has helped these students develop prototypes for lifesaving technology over the last four weeks.
This is the first year UVM has been able to offer programming like this, as the Fab Lab came to fruition just this spring. University funding, donations and IBM contributions are providing high-end equipment like a laser cutter.
"I walk in to this room and I see this 3d printer and I was like oh my god! I called my friends and told them I am using a 3-D printer and laser cutter. I made it my Facebook status," said Eleanor Myers, 17.
Myers came up from Providence, R.I., for this program. She says the technology they are working with is not usually accessible to high school kids, but it is exactly what keeps kids like her interested in engineering.
"We have all done programming, we have all done designing everything, essentially; soldering. It's coming along well. Right now they are programming it to steer," Myers said.
The skills they are developing serve as more than bragging rights, this is career-building course work in an economy being driven by math and science.
"There is a lot of awareness I think in this high school age group of the economy, of the turbulence of careers and the idea that they want to have jobs," said Robin Gronlund of UVM Continuing Education.
Both the lobster and a scorpion robot were designed on computers, and then etched out of plastic in the laser cutter and electronically engineered to detect infrared heart rates. The design will allow them to enter collapsed buildings and find survivors.
"As people we emit infrared senses. If we could make a machine that could find our pulse from a distance and save us from a burning building, these could save lives," Myers said.
The students will put on the final touches before testing the robot's agility and abilities in a mock building collapse-- a first-of-its-kind experiment in the lab.
"Engineering is the purpose to solve problems for humanity," Fortney said.
This program is not your typical summer camp. These kids will leave the program with three college credits they can transfer in to any school in Vermont.
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