ERDC camp teaches students cyber security, robotics, more

Published 9:48 am Monday, July 31, 2017

Twenty-five area youths between the ages of 9 and 18 had the chance to learn the basics of cyber security, robotics the programming during a weeklong camp at that U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center that concluded Friday.

The first of its kind camp was a joint venture between Mississippi State University, ERDC, Morning Star SDA and Kids Code Mississippi. Participants had the chance to learn the basics of cyber and internet security, work with Finch robots and practice basic coding to control their robots.

“We started off with basic password management, like always have a secure password, a strong password,” ERDC computer scientist Kevin Walker said. “We went over practical internet security — don’t talk to strangers, don’t give out your information. We had a few videos that backed that up.”

Participants then had the chance to program small robots to perform a variety of maneuvers including working through a maze, racing and even doing a few dance moves. The robots are programed using Snap, which Walker described as “digital Legos.”

“You have various programming components on the left and you drag them into the area and click them together to build the actual program,” Walker said.

Using Snap doesn’t require the students to actually write code themselves, but it serves as an introduction to the power of programing and coding.

“Programming is prolific,” Walker said. “Your refrigerator even has programming in it now. If we can take a child who has never had experience with that, and who is given the basic understanding of it is everywhere, we did our job.”

The camp also included daily tours of ERDC facilities including one of the super computers and another showing off a working model of the lock and dam built on the Snake River in Oregon.

“One of the popular ones, we did an augmented reality, virtual reality session,” Walker said. “They all got to play with an Oculus Rift and Microsoft HoloLens. They were really taken with that.”

The camp was funded by Mississippi State University, and Walker said the university has already expressed interest in having a similar camp next summer.

“It wasn’t super in depth, but it shows them what they could do if they went into a STEM related field,” Walker said. “They got a taste of programming. They got taste of cyber security. They got a taste of the actual robotics.”