Mark T Wayne – Special Correspondent
as told to John Jonelis
Permit me to proclaim that, next year, children—yes I say children, should organize Techweek. The event will gain from it. I have good evidence for such speculation, as you will see.
The first truths I learn are these: The map I brought is wrong. As I register, a polite lady kindly provides me with a new map in a slick brochure. It also is wrong. The events are scrambled and nobody knows with any certainty what happens when. They provide a mobile app to keep us all up to date. It doesn’t work. Few can even access the internet within these concrete walls. Meanwhile, the uproar is more than a man’s ears can stand. I must shout to make myself heard! This is mass confusion. Execrable, I say! Execrable!
I throw my program to the floor in disgust and stomp on it several times. My heel grinds it to pulp on the concrete floor. Then I plunge headlong into the crowd, bent on finding something of value. I paid dearly for this ticket—$30—and I will not squander my funds!
My foray into the teaming multitudes does not immediately bear fruit. The clamor of a thousand voices assails me as I squeeze down isle after isle of swarming humanity. With amazing alacrity and skill, and with great speed, I get lost and disoriented in the bazaar of booths staffed by business people and hired models, all hawking their wares.
This is the Chicago Merchandise Mart—a building with more floor space than almost any other in the world. Techweek occupies an entire floor—has its own special elevator!
I am a lost soul, until—is this providence or accident? While wandering through this wasteland of corporate exhibits and almost calling it a day, I stumble upon a rare treat—an oasis—a flower growing in a junkyard.
I am at the booth of ROBOPOP, an amazing exhibit of mechanical automation designed and built by schoolchildren. Children I say! Not typical squirming urchins with faces smeared with peanut butter and dirt, but intelligent young people who dare to compete against the whole world. This little group of scoundrels has won award after award—four years straight! Here they are:
- 2010—Rookie Team Award
- 2011—Robot Design Award
- 2012—Champion’s Award
- 2012—#1 in Robot Performance
- 2013—Champions of the North American Open in California
And this is not a science class project. No sir! They do this on their own time, apparently for sheer enjoyment.
When I was a boy, we played ball, planned pirate capers, convinced our loved ones of our physical demise, and then attended our own funerals! A couple of us escaped down river for weeks in a homemade raft. No end of mischief! And perhaps these children find time for such pursuits—I cannot honestly credit it otherwise. But the contraption I see before me appears significant enough to take all of a child’s free time, and it is constructed entirely of Leggos.
I ask Zach Hogan, age 12, how he got involved in such an ambitious venture.
“I really like Leggos” he says, “And when I heard that our school was doing a Leggo group, I said sure. I didn’t even know we were going to be doing programming.”
A precocious young lady, age 14, is a retiring veteran of this diminutive team.
“At the beginning of the year,” she says, “We’re given lots of Leggo pieces and told, okay build your robot. We have to build one that interacts with every mission (that the committee assigns). For example, take that pill bottle and bring it back to base—that’s one of the missions…The robot must act entirely independently.”
And she demonstrates this thingamajig for me. This machine performs one task after another flawlessly, automatically, with superb precision! I tell you, this is astounding!
These marvelous children hail from Prince of Peace School in Lake Villa, IL. Just to put this in its true perspective, I’m talking about an elementary school for children from 1st through 8th grade. They are not old enough to vote, drink, drive, or escape the clutches of their parents. But here they are at Techweek among the most brilliant inventors, striving entrepreneurs, prestigious corporations, and sneaky politicians in the world. And they’ve shown ‘em all up! Yes sir, they’ve pulled it off in a big way!
I tell you sir, this exhibit is the best thing I’ve seen the whole day!
Lest you think these children confine themselves to Leggo construction, permit me to set that straight.
Lucy Tarcha, age 12, displays an entirely homemade automated machine that dispenses patent medicine—I believe they refer to it as prescription medicine these days—at just the right dose and at just the right time.
Here is the Robopop championship team: Samantha Case, Madelyn Case, Zachary Hogan, Natalie Koenig, Colin McElduff, Angela Rauch, Margaret Rauch, Michael Rauch and Lucy Tarcha. Brian Case and Sam Rouch serve as adult coaches.
Prince of Peace School website.
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