This summer marks the 14th year of the Penn Robotics summer camps. Beginning in 2005, we have offered a variety of activities for young students to participate in, including our PRIDE and Build-A-Bot camps. Students were able to get involved with Creativity, Design, Software and Electronics, and/or CNC Manufacturing as part of our PRIDE camps during Week 1 (June 11-15), and many continued onto our Build-A-Bot camp during Week 2 (June 18-22).

Creativity Beginner

The beginner creativity camp teaches students about the design process through the use of LEGOs. The students would be paired up and given a new challenge every day, such as build the strongest bridge or the fastest car, and then would be given time to create and build their own design. They would then have the opportunity to test their creation, and then go back to make some adjustments before the final test. Throughout the course of the camp, the students had the ability to express themselves with their designs, and made all kinds of crazy things, such as cat shaped cars and flying houses. In the end, they learned valuable lessons: designing, testing, and working together, while still getting to have fun.

Creativity Advanced

Advanced Creativity Camp is a camp that used LEGOs to teach young students lessons in the design process, engineering, and teamwork. The theme of the 2018 Advanced Creativity Camp was natural disasters. Campers learned about how different disasters occur and what engineers can do to help  people who endure them. From hurricane-resistant houses, aerodynamic planes, and buoyant sea-faring ships, campers learned about real world concepts through group building challenges. Campers took away valuable lessons connected to STEM and teamwork in this fun week.

Design Beginner

This year in the beginning design camp, students were taught some basic and advanced tools in Autodesk Inventor, including extrusions, cuts, mates, and the basic tools needed for each. They then used their skills to 3D model CO2 blast cars, which were manufactured by the mentors based on IDWs.  Students were also taught how to navigate the Inventor interface, making them more capable of fixing issues they came across on their own. The day before race day, the track took about two hours to set up, and on race day, an hour and a half was designated for racing, but it really needed another 30 minutes due to difficulties with the sensors. Overall, the camp was very insightful for the students, and a lot of them had fun learning CAD.

Designer Advanced

The advanced design camp was available to students that have had experience in any kind of 3D modeling or design; many had already attended our beginner camp, and some had also learned from classes in their school. The week-long camp was split into two main projects: creating their own unique 3D model of rocket, and designing and building a Rube Goldberg machine. The first few sessions of the week were intended to teach the campers about the different tools used in the computer program, Autodesk Inventor, and different ways to build their machine. Many of the campers were so eager that they were able to start both of these projects on the first day. Throughout both of these projects, the first three days were filled with learning, testing, failing, and even more trying. With enough hard work, their rocket designs were able to get 3D printed, and the machines were ready to be put to the test. The last day of the week was devoted to testing each group’s machine by their ability to push a button to launch a model rocket built by each of the students. Their machines included a wide variety of actions, from levers and pulleys, to falling dominoes. Although not all of the machines completed the task, and some of the rockets fell apart, the students had a great time completing these projects, and it was a great learning experience.

Software and Electronics

The software and electronics camp covers the basic concepts of programming and wiring skills needed to make many electronics. The topics that our camp covered included inputs and outputs, Boolean logic, program flow, and many other concepts. After learning these concepts through learning projects, the campers wired and programmed their own projects based on the two base projects. A microcontroller piano or an RGB lantern. Both of these projects made use of the Arduino nano microcontrollers and IDE.

The Microcontroller piano focused on inputs and outputs along with Boolean logic. The campers were given a number of buttons, where they had to program each button to create a different note using a small speaker. This allowed the campers to have a functioning piano, giving many campers the opportunity to play whole songs autonomously through this project.

The RGB Lantern focused on inputs and outputs as well as program flow. The campers were given an RGB LED that would light up in different colors depending on the signal given to it. The campers programmed various different modes for the LED to go through. Some of these different modes were a solid color blinking and a color fading. As this developed, some of the campers added on to this project by creating their own modes and incorporating a variety of sensors, such as a sonar, photosensor, or a potentiometer.

We wanted to give the campers the knowledge of how to program and wire so they could be further interested in this subject. We wanted the campers to leave everyday knowing something more about how electronics worked and how many everyday objects worked. We wanted the campers to know how to program various different objects so they could create programs in their future endeavors. The children in our camp responded well to the learning environment and the camp was able to accomplish its goals. Every child left this camp with a project that showed their increase in knowledge about software and electronics.

CNC Manufacturing

The CNC Manufacturing summer camp is a great way to introduce younger students to the manufacturing process of a project. In previous camps, the kids have always worked with the machines in our shop such as mills, lathes, various hand tools, and even the welder. This year, with the new edition of the CNC Mill and Router, we decided to focus the camp on the CNC machines in the lab, including the CNC mill, laser engraver, plasma cutter, 3D printer, engraver, and router. Our plan called for the campers to make a 3×3 puzzle, each piece made from a different machine. To accomplish this task in just a week, the camp was split into six stations: the Laser Engraver, Router, 3D Printer, Manual Mill, Engraver, and Welding, to manufacture each different piece of the final puzzle. The campers chose their design for each piece and were taught on each machine how to implement their design into the puzzle piece. At the beginning of the camp, they used CAD to create a puzzle piece that would then be 3D Printed with their choice of color. For the laser, different designs were engraved into wood and acrylic pieces. On the router, their design of choice was cut into the wood piece, and on the engraver, they chose a design to be engraved into the aluminum. They used the TIG Welder to weld their initials onto a puzzle piece as well as mill 135 into another piece using the Manual Mill. In future camps, we plan to continue using the CNC and other machines for the manufacturing camp.


This year at the Build-a-Bot camps, mentors worked with two different levels of students to design, build, and program a robot to complete a task. In the mornings, younger students in elementary school learned how to work with Vex IQ robots, and in the afternoons, middle school students used Vex EDR to construct their robots.

With teams of three or four students, they begun the camp by learning about the game that they were going to compete in, and began to familiarize themselves with the parts that they were able to use. After these two crucial steps, campers brainstormed ideas to solve the two main problems presented in the game. The first was how to manipulate ping pong balls into a scoring area, and the second task was to find a way to knock blocks off of a bar and to then push them into the scoring area. After each student individually brainstormed solutions to the problems, the teams came back together, and with guidance from the mentors, a discussion was lead about what the best ideas were and how to best combine them into one cohesive robot.

After a final robot design was agreed upon, work began on a base chassi that would be used to implement the different ideas for manipulating scoring elements that team members had. Most teams built a standard base chassi due to time constraints of the camp. In the following days, teams continued to work on building their robots and testing them. As troubles with their designs were found, they worked to make modifications to those designs to help them better score points in the game. In addition to building and refining the designs, there was a programming session to teach the students about how they can get their robot, in addition to different manipulators that they built, able to move and work.

On the final days of the camp, competition matches began and teams worked to make the final preparations to their robots, as well as test them before they had to go compete on the field. Many teams found that they had problems with their designs and worked between matches to make modifications and to reinforce parts that weren’t very strong to better improve their chances of scoring. At the end of the first day of matches, teams saw where they ranked compared to other teams and were excited for the final day of the camps where the rest of the seeding matches would be played and the alliance selection would begin.

The last day of camp started with additional seeding matches, and a deepened understanding of the importance of scouting to see who would be a good robot to partner with for the finals. Teams thought strategically about who was in first place and where winning or losing matches would put them, so that they would be able to prepare for alliance selection when it came. They spent the day deciding the possible teams to pair up with and who they would agree to be in an alliance with. Once the selection finally took place, finals began in a single elimination tournament. Teams fought hard to win their matches and go onto the next round of competition. Towards the end of the match, with only the number one and two seeded teams left, teams who had previously been eliminated quickly began to get behind the alliance that they wanted to win the match, as parents of the campers watched to see what their kids had been working on in the past week.

By the end of the camp, not only did campers have a fun experience building and competing with a robot, but they gained a basic understanding of robotics. They learned the importance of brainstorming and designing before building, how to work with their teammates to complete each task, how to build a simple robot, and the basics of coding. Each camper was excited about learning and applying these new skills and looked forward to being able to return next year for more camps in the STEM field.

After the Vex IQ camp finished up each day, the Vex EDR camps started. This camp included teams of four students building much larger robots that would compete in a different game with different objectives. Similar to how the Vex IQ camp started, the campers were first introduced to the game and the different challenges that it possessed. After this, they begun to brainstorm designs and solutions to the problems the game presented. For this level of competition, teams decided to specialize in one specific type of scoring rather than building multiple manipulators for each way to score.

Teams worked on building and designing their robots from their given kit of parts, but they also had to make informed decisions about what other parts they would need to buy from the part store to be able to complete their robots. Teams continued building and working on their robots throughout the week, with tech sessions where one or two members would go to learn about more specialized topics. There were many different tech sessions including programming, 3D design, and laser cutting. These were all different ways that teams would be able to improve their robot and get an edge on the competition. One of the most important jobs was programming. Once teams finished up their robot designs, they sent their programmer to make a tele-op or driver control program, as well as an autonomous program where the robot follows pre-programmed instructions to score points.

After all of this great work, the teams tested their robots and practiced on the field, trying to determine who was the best driver and what their strategy in the game would be. All of this work continued up until seeding matches began. This is where teams began to really be able to dial in their game strategy and autonomous period. Teams worked to modify their manipulator and make any repairs that they need before the next match began. The competition continued as teams vied for the top spots that would allow them to be an alliance captain and to pick a teammate in which to compete with. After the alliance selection, final matches and elimination took place. The number two seed ended up winning in the last match of the day.

Kids involved with this camp were taught the basics of robotics at a higher level than the Vex IQ campers. On top of this they learned the importance of teamwork and communication in a team, since each person specialized in a specific aspect of the robot. They were especially involved in scouting and strategy and had a good grasp on the topic covered by the end of the camps.

Categories: Blog

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