Kids explore ‘Mars’ — with robots: Students learn code in summer camp

HARLINGEN — Arturo Garza gripped the steering wheel as he maneuvered the rover around the rough Martian terrain.

As the Mars Rover moved across the gym floor, Julianne Castillo, 8, worked the controls to make a two-pronged gripper clutch a white module labeled “water.”

Once she’d picked it up, Arturo drove the rover a few feet away where Julianne placed it in the designated location at Gutierrez Middle School.

“It was awesome!” said Arturo, 9, having completed the mission to the delight of the other children.

About 75 children in grades fourth through eighth attended a presentation Friday called “Dream Big, Start Small.” The presentation was given by Heriberto Reynoso, CEO and founder of Reybotics.

“My purpose was to inspire them to pursue the STEM professions,” said Reynoso, whose Mercedes-based company does research and development as well as develop projects for school districts.

The children had just finished a week of activities collectively called “Got Code.”

During the week-long camp, children used various methods of programming code. With Earth-bound scientists programming vehicles to conduct experiments millions of miles away on the Red Planet, it seemed only fitting to end the week with such a presentation by Reynoso.

“Pull the controls for the grippers,” he directed Julianne, who wore a big grin while journeying on her maiden voyage to Mars.

The huge grippers grasped one module after another, one labeled power, another oxygen, placing them together in a “colony.”

“It was cool!” she said. “I liked it.”

So did other kids who’d watched with fascination as Mars was colonized across the gym floor by not only Arturo, not only Julianne, but so many others. Perhaps they weren’t in the driver’s seat, but their imaginations had taken off.

“I really want to try, I want to try this,” said Zakry Carroll, 11, after Arturo and Julianne had finished their mission. Zakry and so many others seemed to be climbing all over the rover.

They’d also been intrigued by other discussions by Reynoso, such as his company’s development of a cylindrical robot to examine storm drains.

“I learned how to program games and operate drones,” said Enrique Romero, 13, recalling other presentations that day by Reynoso.

Many of the children gave detailed explanations of their intrigue not only of the presentation but space exploration in general.

“I thought it was very interesting because for the first time they actually showed how robots are exploring space,” said Cristian Rivera, 11. “It was all very eye opening.”

Angelina Trevino was rather circumspect about the Mars Rover.

“It was pretty awesome,” said Angelina, 11. “I think you might actually have to make it a different texture because the plastic would burn.”

Reynoso conceded with a chuckle that the plastic on the rover would not work on a rover exploring Mars. Drastic changes in temperature on the Martian surface would make that impossible.