LEWISTON — Gavin Therriault and Ben Lasselle spent three days building their little robot and training it to navigate a maze — and they couldn’t wait to tear it apart.

The pair’s Lego robot continually got hung up crossing from an open spot in the middle of the maze to a piece of black guide tape its visual sensor could track around a curve and toward the ultimate goal.

Billy Wall, the counselor at the Maine Robotics Camp at Auburn Middle School this week, offered tips and suggestions.

But in the end, the boys figured it out on their own.

“We have 27 things we have to do; 27 steps we have to learn,” Lasselle of Poland said. “The maze is No. 28. It puts everything together.”

They held their breath as the robot sniffed along tape, stopping just shy of the wall and making a sharp turn to the target box. Two sets of hands went up in the air.


“Now, let’s take it apart and build something really cool,” Therriault, 9, of Greene said.

The 27 steps the kids learn — 28, if you count the maze — run a full range of basic computer programming and problem-solving skills. They must program the robot to follow a set of instructions and to interpret sound, touch and visual data.

“But mostly, we teach them to problem-solve and persevere,” Wall said. “They don’t understand that’s what we’re doing, but that’s most of it: how to work through a problem and work out a solution.”

Auburn’s program is one of 30 similar camps offered by Maine Robotics this summer. Maine Robotics is the group that helped bring the high school-level Pine Tree Regionals FIRST Robotics Competition to Lewiston in April.

Executive Director Tom Bickford said he looks at camps like the one in Auburn as development leagues for the high school competition.

“If you think about it, the FIRST competitors are doing professional-level engineering,” Bickford said. “But we can’t wait to start working with those kids until they get to high school. If we wait, we’d miss so many students who had never thought about engineering, computer science or the whole technology component.”

Many children in the U.S. have played with Legos. Wall said the goal is to turn that familiarity and comfort with the medium into a bit of tech savvy and confidence.

“We have to teach them to program their creations to work on their own,” he said. “They can’t just push them with their hands. It’s the next level.”


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