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Writing for the robots: Programming camp for area teams held at

Jeff Jones teaches a class on Monday about the programming language Java during the Northern Minnesota Robotics Conference's first programming camp at BSU. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI—Many Northern Minnesota robotics teams have plenty of students who are skilled builders and engineers—team members who give their robot its shape, design it to navigate obstacles and maintain or upgrade it between competitions.

Fewer teams, though, have students who are skilled at programming their robot. That can put them at a disadvantage, especially during the part of a competition when robots can earn points for acting autonomously.

That's why leaders at the Northern Minnesota Robotics Conference organized a two-day programming camp for member teams at Bemidji State University, where students from 12 of the conference's 22 schools spent Monday afternoon learning about JAVA and LabVIEW, two languages that most teams use to program their robots.

"A lot of us, too, can get some of the simple stuff down, but complex, multiple moves of drive forward, drive right, grab this thing, stack it here, and doing that repeatedly—that's hard for us," said Matt Wendland, a coach at Cass Lake-Bena, which hosted the conference's inaugural championship last October. "And it's hurting our teams as we compete in the regional events and the state competitions, so we know that we need to grow that."

Beyond sharpening students' code skills and fostering some camaraderie between teams who often have to work together anyway—Wendland said it's often called "cooperatition"—the camp might also pique students' interest in the university itself. Attendees toured the campus in between workshops, and were scheduled to spend Monday in one of the school's dorms.

"There's a lot of students now that are getting into robotics, and part of what our thing is, is for BSU, we want to team up with somebody to collaborate...both with their students in the future and with ours," said Lyle Meulebroeck, an associate professor at the university and chair of its Technology, Art and Design Department. "The goal with this ultimately is to have kind of a we-help-them-they-help-us type thing."

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

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