TAMPA — The floors at the Brandon campus of Hillsborough Community College were covered in jagged lines of blue tape.
Those lines functioned as practice tracks for the Lego Robotics Camp.
This week, 20 middle school students from around Tampa learned how to program robots here. On Friday, their robots faced a final obstacle course.
David Gula is the outreach director for the Florida Advanced Technological Education Center, which ran the camp.
"We build the basic robot, but the students configure it with different sensors," said Gula.
Using laptop computers, 10 teams of two programmed their robot's sound, light and proximity sensors. The camp aims to direct kids toward manufacturing and technological careers.
Last year there was one session. This year, three. Next year, Gula expects four or five.
Family members attended the final presentation. Parents sat in chairs on one side of the room, while siblings sat cross-legged on the floor.
Ne'talia Gainer, 11, took on the course alone. Her partner left the program two days ago. Her father, Tallie Gainer, came to support her
"Even when she lost her partner, she was up for the challenge," he said.
Her robot's first obstacle — a labyrinth of upsidedown water bottles — tested proximity. With only a few gasps, she made it.
Tallie Gainer and his wife have four kids. She's the oldest.
"I grew up playing Legos," the father said. "It's great to see my daughter take it to the next level."
Ne'talia's second task: a crooked line that tests light sensors. Her robot refused to follow the path.
"My wheel has a little turn to it," she said.
Up next was the sound sensor obstacle. The robot must turn on command at the two corners in order to pass.
Ne'talia waited until the robot got close to the first corner, then she clapped. Her robot turned 90 degrees, then went awry, colliding with the water bottles.
Her final challenge. Come as close to a line of water bottles as possible, without touching them.
Ne'talia's robot inched toward the bottles and, right before impact, stopped. Just as she programmed it to do.
"They planted a seed here," her father said. "A very good seed."
Arielle J. Stevenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3321