Wake Robotics brings its message to Knightdale

amoody@newsobserver.comAugust 26, 2013 

— Members of Cary-based Wake Robotics may be changing the world a little faster than one person at a time, as their motto suggests.

The nonprofit that provides robotics programs for students grades K-12 drew a crowd of 150 young enthusiasts to the East Regional Library on Thursday. It was the next-to-last stop in the organization’s journey to every regional library in Wake County over the past two months.

The goal of the visit was show other students they can do anything they put their minds to. Throw in some Legos and some robots – even one that can play basketball – and that message was an easy sell.

“We use competition robots as a tool to get to the other stuff – the leadership, the collaboration, the teamwork, all that stuff,” said Wake Robotics representative Karen Mellendorf. “To know that another student built (the robots) makes them say, ‘Oh, maybe I can do that. I don’t have to wait until I’m 20.’ ”

That was the impression the informational session left on brothers Surya and Kashi Tumbapura.

For Kashi, 9, who is starting the fourth grade at Triangle Math and Science Academy, the event reinforced a two-year liking for robots.

“They can move cool,” he said. “You can see how the (parts) move and how they work.

Surya, 14 and a freshman at Enloe High School, was more interested in the practical uses of the devices.

“It can definitely be important in the near future,” said Surya, who is considering joining Enloe’s Robotics Club. “You can get a robot to do something, and you’re doing two things at once.”

Mellendorf was hard to single out among the many robotics team members who put the leadership they’ve gained on display. The program was run exclusively by students of the organization.

“The change we’ve seen in them the last two-to-three years, their ability to take over the library and put on a program, the students do all of this,” Mellendorf said. “(The adults) are just here for transporting.”

After the team members made an introductory presentation, the event was hands-on to the very end. Attendees got the chance to earn a robot driver’s license, explored a 3-D printer, learned about tools used to build robots and practiced building their own robots with Legos.

“We’re showing people you don’t have to have gone to college and gotten a degree (to be) called a maker,” said 16-year-old Maria Hunter Mackie, a lead speaker for the robotics team. “It’s something you can do right now.

“The ability that you know, if you want, you can just go make something – that’s empowering and is really cool and no one is going to be able to take that away from you.”

Mellendorf estimates the 85 students currently involved in the Wake Robotics organization have reached out to about 8,000 other students over the last year. Interest in the group has resulted in space and manpower limitations that have the nonprofit looking into moving to a larger headquarters.

In the meantime, the organization continues to share its work with others and offer pointers to those looking to start their own robotics club. It also continues to seek out new sponsors.

Moody: 919-829-4806

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