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From flying robots to iPhone game creation, Camp RoboTech in Nashua makes engineering fun
[June 26, 2012]

From flying robots to iPhone game creation, Camp RoboTech in Nashua makes engineering fun

NASHUA, Jun 23, 2012 (The Telegraph - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Rohit Swamy pressed his finger to the iPad screen, and with a loud whirring noise, the A.R. Drone 2.0 immediately lifted into the air.

The four-propeller "quadricopter" hovered in the hot air Wednesday morning before Swamy tilted the iPad to the left. The flying robot followed, moving in sync with the Apple device's accelerometers.

After a short flight, Swamy tapped the screen again and the robot dropped safely to the ground. The students around him applauded and offered praise: "Nice flight!" Swamy, 18, is training 14 other college students at Nashua's RoboTech Center on Taggart Drive this month so that each of them can teach Camp RoboTech classes at Rivier College in July.

One of the new offerings is Explore Flying Robots, a five-day class to be held July 23-27 at Rivier for grades 3-8. The cost is $499, and spots are still available.

Each of the RoboTech Center's six classes has about 15 students, and enrollment is about half full.

Swamy is back home in Nashua for the summer after his freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley. He was "inundated with internship offers" in Silicon Valley, according to his mother, Naveena, but Swamy though it would be more fun to teach and inspire younger students in New Hampshire.

"Coding 9 to 5 is not for me; I want to do something with kids that's more worthwhile," he said. "We want to expose students to the industry and from there, let them find their own passions." The A.R. Drones are made by a company in Paris, and each costs about $300. The robots weigh only 2 pounds, but they're sturdy. A 5-foot drop on pavement won't do any harm.

The young students at Camp RoboTech will learn much more than simply tapping the iPad and watching the robot fly; they'll actually design their own flight paths for the robots.

"We made it so you can teach it to an 8-year-old," said Swamy's father, Nanu, who started RoboTech Center with his wife in 2001. "We're not dumbing it down, but making it so the language is easy enough and they have benchmarks to hit as they go along." The RoboTech classes are available to students as young as kindergarten and first grade, but high school seniors can sign up, too. Camp RoboTech has become popular in the area because it allows students to be self-engaged in each class, developing skills on their own.

"That's when you have true learning," Nanu Swamy said.

Another new class that's expected to attract students is the iPhone Game Creator for grades 4-12. Students will make their own iPhone games and take home the software to continue playing with it.

"Instead of passively playing games, why not create them?" Rohit Swamy said. "We want to show them how to do useful things rather than just playing games. They will learn how to program, how to problem-solve." The college students who are training to teach at Camp RoboTech gain something, as well.

"It's not only for the summer kids, but for college students, too," Naveena Swamy said.

They learn leadership skills and how to teach, and program directors learn how to teach each of the classes, no matter what their background.

Kenae Brooks, 25, a student at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, is a history major and wants to become a history teacher, but he's at Camp RoboTech to learn more about teaching and programming.

"I thought this would be a great experience and resume builder," he said. "I've learned an enormous amount." Andrew Eaton, 21, of Bedford, is a graduate of New Hampshire Technical Institute who turned down other opportunities to work at Camp RoboTech for the summer. He has been taking the summer courses since he was in school and wanted to give back by teaching the same lessons to future generations of engineers.

The internship pays $2,000 to $4,000, depending on experience and role with the program. It requires four weeks of training before the two weeks of teaching in July, but the opportunity draws students from all over.

Paul Yuan, 18, of Chicago, is staying with the Swamys this summer before his sophomore year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Christina Stuart, 19, of Long Island, N.Y., also came to Camp RoboTech from MIT, while Nashua Community College student Jack Reuter, 18, makes the trip from Hollis.

Colin Smith, 23, drives over from Hudson.

"It provides leadership avenues for undergraduate college students," Naveena Swamy said. "We're not just creating technology programs; we're teaching the next young entrepreneurs. That's the strength of the program." Of course, the internship also presents the opportunity to play with flying robots all summer.

"It's the best," Rohit Swamy said. "In college, you have to do work and then play with robots. This is a perfect blend of everything." Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashua Also, follow Kittle on Twitter (@Telegraph_CamK).

___ (c)2012 The Telegraph (Nashua, N.H.) Visit The Telegraph (Nashua, N.H.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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