Connecting through circuits: Library’s robotics program teaches technology, confidence to youngster

Connecting through circuits: Library’s robotics program teaches technology, confidence to youngster
Friend bot: Brooklyn Public LIbrary’s robotics program helped developmentally delayed Bay Ridge kid Alexander Miller make friends.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

This kid is more than meets the eye.

Teams of techies-in-training built robots that they showed off in a borough-wide robotics contest at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central branch on Dec. 16, and the mom of one pint-sized programmer said the competition gave her shy boy the courage to make something even more impressive — a friend.

“I’m so glad for this program, it really helped my son come out of his shell,” Maria Rose said of her 9-year-old son Alexander Miller. “It brought out this whole new personality I’ve never seen before.”

Miller — whose mother said he suffers from developmental delays that make socializing difficult — and more than 100 other budding engineers between 9- and 16-years-old enrolled in the library’s robotics league, forming teams at their local branches under the tutorship of resident artificial-intelligence gurus.

The pros coached the young builders on how to use Danish toymaker Lego’s Mindstorm brand of building blocks to construct their machines and program the things to move autonomously as well as push, pull, and pick up other objects.

Miller’s team — a skeleton crew of four kids far smaller than the 10 participants allowed in any group — finished in a respectable fourth place at the meet.

But the Bay Ridge youngster, whose mom said never suffered from a lack of smarts, walked away with the even better achievement of working in partnership with his teammates, she said.

“He hated group work, didn’t like talking to kids, and I saw him come out of that at the competition,” Rose said. “He was willing to sit with the high-schoolers and talk to them about their robots. It was truly amazing for me to see.”

And the current league may have ended with the Central branch’s competition, but Miller already plans to re-enroll next year to face new challenges and make new pals, according to his mother.

“He can’t wait for the program to come back,” she said. “He’s already thinking about how to work on the robot and do things.”

The book lender’s free robotics program is expected to return next spring, according to a Brooklyn Public Library spokeswoman.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Battle bots: Kids programmed their Lego Mindstorms droids to perform various tasks.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

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