Robots, Durham schools and Dukies forge a different sort of Duke-Durham partnership
For many, lounging poolside, sipping cold drinks and tanning in the sun are popular ways of passing the long, lazy days of summer.
For senior Chris Bryant and junior Brook Osborne, this summer was hardly a time of rest and relaxation, but instead an opportunity to expand robotics education in the Triangle area.
From July 1 through 7, Bryant and Osborne took seven students from Chewning Middle School and one student from the Durham School of the Arts to compete in the RoboCup Junior competition at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
RoboCup is an international competition of elementary and high school teams from around the world that compete in three challenges in soccer, dance and rescue, where the team objective is to build a robot to follow a line through an obstacle course and find stranded victims.
The "Chewning Cardinals" participated in the rescue and dance competitions. The rescue team finished 13th out of 24 teams. The dance team was chosen as one of the top three "Super Teams," and finished the highest of all U.S. teams in their division.
"Compared to the American teams they did very, very well," Osborne said. "Compared to the international teams, they did better than one could expect a team like this to do given this was the first time they participated in this kind of competition."
The RoboCup program was started at Duke in the fall of 2004 by Jeffrey Forbes, assistant professor of practice of computer science.
In preparation for the competition, Bryant, Osborne and several other Duke mentors met with students regularly throughout the school year and summer.
"I definitely think that the overall goal of the program is making a difference in the lives of the kids," Bryant said. After his experience, Bryant has decided to forgo law school and send in an application for Teach for America, where he hopes to continue working in Durham with robotics education.
This semester, Forbes will teach a new service learning course called "Teaching with Robotics." Bryant will be the teaching assistant for the course. The class, endorsed by the Durham Public School superintendent, Carl Harris, will teach Duke students about robotics and various teaching methods and allow them to work in small groups of DPS students on various projects.
Forbes said he hopes his class will help increase Duke student involvement in this year's RoboCup competition.
"We're inviting students from all Durham public middle and high schools this year," he wrote in an e-mail. "We're hoping to have 10 to 13 teams of three to four students. Each mentor has one student."
Osborne added that the future of the robotics program is promising, with complete funding and support from the administration. She said that Forbes' new class will help to get the word out on campus about robotics education.
"The only thing limiting the project is the number of Duke students that want to get involved," she said.