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Passion found: Baltimore Robotics Center inspires the next generation of innovators

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Safety glasses on and trusted ‘drivers’ in control, robotics teams from Dumbarton Middle and Eleanor Roosevelt High battle at the MLK VEX Robotics Competition held at the Baltimore Robotics Center January 15th.

By Laura Toraldo

The battlefield is set. Area 53 and Destiny, two metallic, articulated robots, prepare to dual for the stars. Though this sounds like a scene from “Real Steel,” it was the setting of the third annual statewide VEX Robotics Competition in downtown Baltimore. 

Hosted by the Baltimore Robotics Center on January 15, 29 Maryland teams designed and built innovative robots to compete in an engineering challenge. In a game called “Star Struck,” the teams’ machines had to conquer inspections and obstacles and surpass their opponents’ performance. 

“It inspired teamwork,” VEX competition alumnus Kevin Rudolph reflected on his experience with competitive robots. “You were working with metal, wood and technology, and at the end, you had something you could put your hands on. You had made something tangible.”

But hosting competitions for tech-hungry students is just the beginning for the Baltimore Robotics Center. Executive Director Ed Mullin said the BRC strives to inspire Baltimore’s youth to explore all aspects of science, technology and manufacturing. To this point, they organize manufacturing tours that enable city students to visit locations like Becton Dickinson, Direct Dimensions, Strategic Factory, DankoArlington, READY Robotics, Bustin Boards, and the Foundery.

“The kids get there and there are things that they think are from heaven or made in China and they are made right here in Owings Mills, Glen Burnie, or at McCormick & Company right up the street,” Mullin said.

According to Mullin, the Maryland business community is equally excited to reach the students involved with the BRC—all with the goal of connecting students to the channels a focus in STEM enables.

“We work to connect youth to stable STEM jobs and careers by demonstrating pathways and facilitating internships,“ he explained. “We show them how to market those skills and inspire them to use them in Maryland.”

Kimmie Booth, a BRC alumna, emphasized the impact finding her passion in robotics made in her life.

“Robotics is different from being in a standard classroom,” she said to a crowd full of people at Baltimore’s TEDx talk. “The important part of learning is making mistakes. When you do things yourself and mess up, eventually you will learn how to fix it. You learn what works and what doesn’t work and why…my confidence in solving things independently has grown since I have faced more challenges.”

Booth has continued with the BRC even after graduation as a robotics merit badge counselor and lead coach for the past three years. She has studied both computer science and information systems security at Towson University and the Community College of Baltimore County.

“I view it as my new training facility,” Booth said. “Just like an athlete that spends hours in the gym, I spend hours in classes and labs trying to learn more about engineering and how concepts are formed.”

Booth said that BRC helped to open the door for her to the world of robotics and her passion. 

“Teenagers know where we want to go. We just don’t know how to get there, or where to find the help,” she said.

Through BRC, students explore both auto and humanoid technology—creating everything from high speed remote control cars to virtual reality headset drones to 3-D printed prosthetic hands. The organization also hosts robotics summer camps along with opportunities in global competitions like VEX and FIRST.

After a day of battle at the MLK Vex tournament, Fed-X 4.0 from Calvert High School pulled the first place ranking—though all walked away with the values of teamwork, a sense of accomplishment for what they created, and for some, a new found passion. After the lights had switched off there was an excitement that lingered, it promised both a child and Maryland’s future would be a little brighter.