By Kim Farrell Staff writer

Robot Camp is under way this week at Griffiss Institute. No, it is not a camp with robots sitting around simulated campfires eating computer-chip smores.

What it is, is a day camp where youth, ages 11-14, learn to build and program robots, tackle challenges, and develop robotics and project-planning skills.

A joint project of the Griffiss Institute and Mohawk Valley Community College, the "robot camp" is intended to show young participants that deductive reasoning, problem solving and logical thinking can be fun too.

Engineers and scientist from the Air Force Research Laboratory, as well as teachers from area elementary and middle schools, volunteer to guide the young robotic engineers at the week-long camp. Today, students toured the Air Force Research Lab to see first hand where science and engineering are put to use every day.

The robot camp program is funded through a grant from the Office of the Secretary of Defense as part of the National Defense Education Act’s STEM Initiative. The STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Initiative is a governmental effort to increase interest in these subjects. For the kids, however, the camp offers even more.

"They are just having so much fun," said Jeffrey DeMatteis, a system safety engineer at the lab and one of the camp facilitators. He said that the 21 campers, from Rome, New York Mills, Oriskany, Boonville, Alder Creek, New Hartford, Sauquoit, and even one from Rochester, who is visiting her grandparents in Rome.

Each First Lego League (FLL) Challenge has two parts, the Robot Game and the Project. The Robot Game involves teams building and programming an autonomous robot using Lego Mindstorms technology to score points in 2 1/2 minute matches on a themed playing field. The project has teams explore an actual problem that today’s scientists and engineers are trying to solve, develop an innovative solution to that problem (either by creating something that doesn’t exist or building upon something that does), and share their findings.

DeMatteis said that the students are really excited and engaged by this year’s challenge presented by the First Lego League program. The Body Forward¿ Challenge has teams exploring the cutting-edge world of biomedical engineering to discover innovative ways to repair injuries, overcome genetic predispositions, and maximize the body’s potential, with the intended purpose of leading happier and healthier lives. In the process, the campers learn to program mobile robots and also about various types of sensors, applying measurement and geometry to calculate robot navigation, experimental process, and experiment documentation.

"This is one of the most popular camps offered by MVCC’s Center for Corporate and Community Education," said Lisa Philipson, coordinator for the College for Kids and Teens at MVCC. "Registration filled a month in advance while inquiries continued about possible openings right up to the start of the program."

To find out more about how to register for robot camp next year, visit the MVCC website at www.mvcc.edu or call the college at 339-3470.