St. Albans student vies for prize with Lego robot

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Although he is not yet old enough to drive, 16-year-old Malcolm Primus had no problems building a miniature Lego vehicle that could deftly navigate the smooth surface of a computer table at the Devry Institute of Technology last week.

But his ambitions for the hand-sized contraption went a bit further than that.

“It’s supposed to pick things up and then throw them, but it doesn’t work out that way,” the St. Albans resident said as he tinkered with the network of rubber bands linking the wheels of his machine with the generator that powered it.

Primus was one of 15 students from across the city who gathered in a computer lab at Devry’s airy Thomson Avenue campus Friday, where they showed off the Lego robots and websites they had created as part of a two-week summer technology camp.

“You’re talking about 15 kids who could have been out there doing anything this summer, yet they chose to come in and learn,” said Rick Sutton, the dean of information and technology at Devry.

Sutton said the camp was designed to give students who are already leaning toward careers in technology an additional boost toward pursuing an education in the field.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do computers in college, so I came to this to see if I like it or not,” said Alexis Griffin, who attends the High School of Arts and Business in Corona.

The challenges posed by the Devry camp hardly fazed the 16-year-old high school senior, whose modestly prevented her from admitting the depth of her technological savvy.

“It’s not that I’m really good, it’s just easy,” she said.

Griffin, Primus and a third student worked together on their projects in a group they called “Hazardous.”

Capping off the program with some suspense, four Devry employees paced around the lab Friday to score each group’s projects and select an overall winner.

Primus was not optimistic about the prospects for Hazardous.

“We had it outside in the hallway and it was working fine, but then one rubber band popped and something else happened, and then I came in this morning and there was no wheel on it,” he said.

Straddled by a pair of miniature Lego people dressed in silver space helmets, the vehicle he and two others had put together looked like a cross between a spaceship and a bulldozer. While a red pair of wings and set of dishes arrayed to look like eyes and ears gave it human-like appeal, its mechanical arm sat limply along the front, refusing to respond to the gentle pull of the rubber bands.

Though many of the students were still hazy about their plans for the future, Primus was convinced of his calling.

“I want to make games,” he said. “I want to make my own system, like PlayStation. I want to make ‘Primus.’”

Before conquering the world of game programming, however, he had some more immediate technological concerns to deal with. Between gears popping into the air and wheels falling off their axles, his machine had been spiraling downward ever since Primus and his group finally got it working last Thursday. Meanwhile, the web pages they had designed were stubbornly refusing to show up on the computer screen.

In the end, Hazardous failed to rank first, second or third in a competition that only included five groups — confirming Primus’s suspicions about the performance of his uncooperative robot.

For Nireata Seals, Devry’s dean of evening and weekend programs, all of the students could take credit for turning the camp into a winning experience.

“We have a great group of students,” she said. “They make it or break it.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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