Kids build and race robots at summer camp

Gavin watched closely as Gage used an app on a tablet to program a small, car robot that they built.

“What do you think it will do?” asked Tori DiFranco, technical sales engineer at Texas Instruments. “Press play. Do you think it will go forward or backward?”

Gavin thought about it for a moment. “I think it will do both.”

“Why,” DiFranco asked.

“Because it is in the code,” Gavin said.

He was right!

The 11-year-old boy smiled as he watched the robot move forward then backward. Now it was his turn to program the robot’s speed. He adjusted it to the fastest level.

“Uh, oh,” Mackenzie said. “I think it’s going to fall off the table!”

Instead, the children broke out into laughter as the robot began spinning around and around in a circle.


Employees from Texas Instruments in Southfield spent two days with our summer camp kids in Pontiac teaching them how to build and program robots as part of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) learning experience.

On the first day, children learned about electrical engineering when they built an mBot robot. They put sensors on the robot, installed batteries, and attached wheels and other parts.

The kids also experienced what it would be like to be a civil engineer when they designed a bridge out of spaghetti noodles that needed to be strong enough for the robot to drive over it. On the second day, children were exposed to computer engineering as they learned how to program the robot.

DiFranco said she wants the children to see that engineering involves being creative and solving problems.

“I hope they have a better understanding of what engineers can do,” she said. “I don’t want them to think that it’s just math and science in school. It can be so much more, and they can see here the real-life applications.”

After programming the robots, the kids took turns racing their robot on a track made with wooden blocks. Travis volunteered to go first.

“On your mark, get set, GO,” DiFranco yelled.

Travis pressed the buttons on the remote and watched as the robot made it over the first ramp but quickly ran into trouble.

“Ohhhhh!” the children screamed as the robot crashed into a block wall.

One by one the kids raced the robot through the course trying to get the best time. The course was a little tricky for some of the kids, as the robot had to make its way over a ramp, turn corners, travel in between blocks and climb up one final ramp to finish the course.

Gavin said he really enjoyed the two-day robot building and programming experience.

“We got to control a robot with actions and put it together to do amazing things,” he said.

Thank you to Texas Instruments for providing this amazing learning experience for our summer campers!