A growing number of children in the city take up robotics as a hobby, writes Vaibhav Shastry

Eleven year-old Jayendra Mandradiar doesn’t have much time, or interest in cartoons or the Play Station. His mind is preoccupied with other things such as calculations, and his room is filled with flowcharts as he works on a new project. He doesn’t sleep until his task is done.

Otherwise shy, he is a picture of confidence and talent beyond his years, when he works on a new robot. He programmes it to follow his commands to precision. Like him, Aditya Radhakrishnan, a standard five student at Chandrakanthi Public School, is also engrossed with making robots. Aditya and Jayendra are among a growing breed of school children for whom robotics has become an exciting new hobby.

Schools for thought

A couple of academies that have sprung up in the city encourage this hobby. “We have children as young as six enrolling in robotics, which teaches them the basic mechanism and functioning of robots. While many of them are initially enrolled by their parents, they become regulars and are not satisfied until they have designed their own robots ,” says A.P. Naveen Kumar, Director of Coimbatore Cultural Academy, which introduced robotics as a course three years ago. The academy also conducts annual summer camps on robotics. “Our school children recently finished among the top five teams at the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a space competition last year, for launching a robotic spacecraft that can land and travel across the surface of the moon,” says a proud C. Santha Kumar, director of Big Bodhi Academy, a robotics academy in Sai Baba Colony.

While robotics keeps them actively engaged in a competitive environment, children also make new friends and network with each other. “There is a new challenge awaiting me every time I design a robot. I get together with my friends, and we work on new designs even outside the classroom. We like to surprise our instructor with innovative designs,” says Aditya.

A worthwhile hobby

For the parents, enrolling their children in robotics also brings about greater financial responsibility in their wards. “A robotics kit can be quite expensive, and my son sacrifices new clothes and video games to get his hands on the latest kit,” says S. Padma Priya, a parent. The investment has paid them rich dividends. Aditya has designed humanoids and bio-inspired models which are in the same shape as an animal or bird. He has also designed robots which solve the Rubik’s cube and sudokus. Every successful design sees a huge spurt in the confidence levels of the budding robotic designers.

“There is no winning or losing when it comes to robotics. Students rectify their mistakes when they construct and program robots, and upgrade their skills by joining online forums, which get them in touch with robotic designers from all over the world,” says Santha Kumar.

15 year-old S. Pradyum, a standard X student of Lisieux Matriculation Higher Secondary School recently designed a robotic suspension system, meant specially for Indian roads. His design of the Mars Rover, which was displayed at the Space Festival at Bharathiar University last year, won him acclaim from NASA scientists. An otherwise average student, his designs have made him a very popular face in his school and nationally as well. “No concept is difficult to implement once you apply your mind to it. Robots are the future and could provide solutions to many of our problems in the coming years,” he says confidently.

The robotics academies offer three broad categories: Junior Robotics (six years and above), World of Robotics (7-15 years) and Robotics Engineering (college students).

A robotics kit can cost anywhere between Rs. 25,000 (base kit) to Rs. 75,000 (advanced kit).

Private schools are tying up with academies offering robotics to popularise Activity Based Learning.

Children have participated in both national and international level robotics contests and won many prizes.

Those interested in learning robotics can visit http://bigbodhiacademy.com or www.coimbatoreculturalacademy.com for more details.