Standing in front of a projected image on his office wall, Danny Morris points to a written formula that will help his audience figure out how to correct a problem they've been having with their machinery.
“You tell whatever wheel that's going faster to kick it back a little bit, and it will go in a straight line” because the formula will direct it to do so, he said, describing that differing speeds on both wheels made a robotic device veer from a set path.
The owner of Jacksonville's DCM Computer Services isn't a classroom teacher, but disturbed by what he sees as a lack of school STEM – a curriculum that focuses heavily on science, technology, engineering and mathematics – programs for teenagers, has launched the East Texas Robotics Club to share his knowledge of computer programming in a fun way.
The dozen or so members come from Jacksonville, Bullard, Rusk and Ben Wheeler, and range in ages 10 to 18.
During the two-hour meetings – held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at his shop at 102 E. Commerce St. in Jacksonville – these youths are challenged to use their math and science skills to make their robots move, but they consider it anything other than work.
“It's a lot of fun,” said Jacksonville resident Jordyn Herring, a seventh-grader at Cumberland Academy in Tyler. “It's a great way to connect with people who are interested in the same things that you are.”
Fellow club member Atticus Belota, a home-schooled student from Bullard agreed.
“The best part? Gradually learning different things – especially all of the electronic components that are involved in this,” he said, adding that his mother, Karyn, discovered the club on Facebook.
Morris's primary goal is to impart information in a way that it not only sticks, but encourages young people to get involved.
“Programming is gonna be the same no matter what your focus, whether you're working for Microsoft on the next version of Excel or doing cyber-security programming. It's learning to see what the problem is and breaking that problem down into smaller steps to find out how to do such-and-such,” he said, noting that when results are immediate, the lesson is exciting.
“They can hit that button, say 'go,' and they see what happens. That's the greatest thing about programming: You go sit down and write 30,000 lines of code and then go to see what happens. You have that ultimate control,” he said, then grinned. “It's like being a wizard.”
His background in the technological field has given him an inside look at what companies will be looking for in future employees.
“I spent eight years working with Texas Instruments, and we were taken from hands-on stuff to work being almost totally done by robotics to ensure higher yields, lower costs and faster output,” Morris said.
Because that is the route that many companies have gone, “they still need computer engineers and folks who will be able to program and maintain those machines,” said William Foreman, a Jacksonville resident who is the current treasurer of the Cherokee County Amateur Radio Club and who attended a recent club meeting.
In earlier days, while the computer industry was still new, knowing computer programming was as important as being able to operate one, Foreman said. “Nowadays, that don't have that necessarily available – a lot of what they do is computer usage, like doing spreadsheets,” he said. “The robotics club gives them an opportunity to see the other side of how all that works.”
And it supplements what they've learned in the classroom, Morris said.
“Some of what we do are things they aren't getting to learn in school right now, which is really why I wanted to start it, so that they can get exposed to these things and help base those job opportunities on something besides, 'Hey! That's an interesting field to go into,'” he said.
And that is something that Herring appreciates, even as a young teen.
“My goal is to become a nurse, or either a speech pathologist, when I grow up and the sciences are something interesting,” she said, describing the appeal of the club.
Morris has several goals for the club: The first is filing paperwork to become an educational nonprofit organization in hopes of garnering corporate sponsorships that would help fund the purchase of more robotic kits – which cost approximately $360 – that could be taken home by participants, which in turn, would encourage family bonding, Morris said.
At this time, club members are learning about programming robots owned by Morris and two of the families involved. “As we start getting corporate sponsorships and donations, we can reimburse (families) the cost of their bots,” he said.
Eventually, his hope is to go from intra-competitions and mazes based on programming that the members have done, “then add AI (artificial intelligence) to let it do the maze itself,” he said, adding that ultimately, this would lead to hosting STEM competitions and becoming known as 'the East Texas robotics capitol.'”
While the new club mostly is comprised of pre-teen and teenage members, there is no upper age limit for joining.
In fact, Morris encourages adults interested in being a part of the club to attend a meeting.
“if you want to be a part, come be a part – we'll have you help out,” he said. “With more adults here, that would give us a chance to break up the group into smaller sizes (and) allow more hands-on time with the bots.”
To learn more about the club, which meets at 102 E. Commerce St. in Jacksonville every Tuesday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., visit the Facebook page “East Texas Robotics Club” or www.dcmcs.com. Contact Danny Morris at 903-721-2467 or email Danny.Morris@DCMCS.com