The PRX event, part of Philly Tech Week, was hosted by Penn’s GRASP Lab in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Central High School’s high-achieving robotics team, the RoboLancers. Penn and Drexel University each recently donated $20,000 to the team, funding its trip to the national championships of the FIRST Robotics Competition.
The PRX students are part of a growing phenomenon of teaching science, engineering, and team-building skills through robotics competitions. These contests see students construct, program, and fine-tune custom robots that are pitted against one another in a variety of tasks, such as collecting and stacking boxes, or shooting a ball through a target.
At the PRX event, the young roboticists showed off their own creations and watched demonstrations of some of GRASP’s work, including self-assembling, snake-like robots from ModLab and six-legged, all-terrain crawlers from KodLab.
Drexel’s Gabe Carryon and GRASP Lab members Monroe Kennedy and Guiseppe Loianno gave keynote addresses, while Central High School students taught a series of workshops that ran the gamut of skill levels. In the most basic course, attendees built “ArtBots” that made drawings by dragging markers across a page. In the most advanced, students learned the finer points of pulse width modulation, a way of controlling a robot’s speed by controlling the frequency with which its motors receive power.
The GRASP Lab, based in SEAS, has long played a coordinating role in the local youth robotics programs. It is partnered with FIRST LEGO League, a LEGO-based robotics competition for middle-school students, supplying materials, training coaches, and organizing qualifying tournaments throughout the School District of Philadelphia.