Rocks and Robots

A workshop at the Ann Arbor Computer Society

I had a truly fun experience last night at the Ann Arbor Computer Society. Dr. George Albercook of Rocks and Robots came to “speak” … OK, actually do a workshop on building robots. He typically does this for kids, but he did a fabulous job with the adults (there were 4 kids present).

We haven’t had a hands-on workshop at AACS for as long as I can remember. What fun! We sat down in 5 groups of 4-6 people each, and used his “Flutterbot” to build a little robot. This included electronics (putting components together on a breadboard, including a brief introduction to reading schematics), software (C programming, using the free WinAVR compiler (delightfully pronounced whenever), and writing to the EEPROM (using the AVR Studio). Armed with some really good (and sometimes amusing) manual that George wrote, students are able to follow directions to do several tasks, from getting the Flutterbot to display a name on the integrated LCD, to getting an LED to turn on and off, all the way to building a robot that can track a dark line on a white surface.

The adults had a riot (and the kids did too). George teaches home schooled kids during the school year, and does several summer camps as well. His summer camps, as the name suggests, include BOTH the robot-building and an outdoor adventure (rock climbing at Planet Rock, the ropes courses at UM, orienteering, etc.). All of these are targeted to students in a young age group (9-12) and an older age group (13 and above). He uses LEGO robots for the younger kids, and graduates them up to the Flutterbot. All in all, it seems like this is a summer camp experience that kids can really grow with. And the combination of classroom work and outdoor adventure is really good for the kids, I think. Well, it works well with MY learning style, at least.

The parts George uses are all readily available on the internet, but the value he adds is that he puts everything together in an integrated kit, and includes software and instructions. The real added value here is the documentation. His expertise means that you don’t have to be an embedded systems programmer already to figure out how to do a little embedded systems programming. Check out his kit at (and a photo of the robot we built last night is on the site as well).

Ah, my daughter is only 3, but she LOVES doing the climbing walls at playgrounds. And she loves computers as well, at least so far. I just hope that she will want to do a summer camp like Rocks and Robots when she’s a little older … and that George is still teaching it them.

I did ask how many girls he typically gets at his camps. He said that they have averaged about 10-20%, but that he’s going to reach out to organizations like the Girl Scouts and Brownies and try to do some recruiting with them to try to increase those numbers. I know that I will be promoting his camp with the kids in my neighborhood who are of the right age … and with my nephews as well!

Rocks and Robots
Summer Camp Adventure
Electronics Kit for building a robot
Ann Arbor Computer Society