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Innovation Day in North Park offers glimpse into future

Karen Price
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Dan Speicher | For The Tribune-Review
Jourdan Tucker, 8, of Swissvale rides a bike that powers a motor and sprays water at the ZeroFossil exhibit during the annual Allegheny Green and Innovation Festival and Hay Day at Hartwood Acres on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016.

To kids 30 or even 20 years ago, the idea of showing up to a local park and seeing a self-driving car and robots that talk and move underwater would have existed only in the movies.

Now, however, technology is changing what’s possible in everyday life, and on July 15 kids of all ages can experience some truly high-tech gadgets at Innovation Day at North Park. The event is free and runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the second floor of the skating rink.

“We’re hoping that this allows kids of all backgrounds and ages and kids who maybe haven’t been exposed to engineering to see that they can do this, too, and that this is fun for anyone,” said Christine Nguyen, who runs the robotics program at the Sarah Heinz House on Pittsburgh’s North Side. “You don’t have to be a nerd or a computer scientist.”

The SHARP robotics team — which stands for Sarah Heinz Advanced Robotics Program — is responsible for the programming for the day. The team consists of high school students from around the Pittsburgh area and since 2010 they’ve been competing in various robotics competitions and organizing outreach programs. Katrina Selavko and Lily Buchanan, two recent graduates, worked to coordinate the program at North Park.

Some of the participating companies and groups that will have tables include Thermo Fisher Scientific, non-profit Fine Art Miracles, which combines art and technology and uses a social robot to help interact with children on the autism spectrum, Urban Innovation21, which promotes an inclusive innovation economy, arts and technology community center Assemble and a number of other robotics teams.

Advanced Technologies Group — or UBER — will also be there with one of the company’s self-driving cars that have been testing in Pittsburgh since September. They will have a display showing what the car sees and have engineers to talk to people about the groundbreaking technology in use on Pittsburgh city streets.

There will also be lots of hands-on activities for kids, including making handmade ice cream, aluminum foil boats, LED pins, spin art and oobleck, the cornstarch-and-water substance named after a Dr. Seuss book.

Also on hand will be a Sea Perch underwater robot, VEX robots, competition robots and interactive robots.

The takeaway from the day, organizers hope, is that problem solving is fun.

“If kids are exposed more often they might be interested in taking a class or doing something else with it,” Nguyen said. “You need problem-solving skills in today’s world, no matter what field you’re in. You have to be able to problem solve and think on your feet. The more kids are exposed to it, the less scary it becomes and the more they realize they can be a part of innovation.”

Karen Price is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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