EDISON, N.J. - Group 1's robot refused to budge.
A moment later, it came to life. It crept forward, tracing the pattern of the tape that had been affixed to a sheet of paper - just as it had been programmed to do.
The members of the team were delighted. One of them even blurted out, "It's doing it," as it inched along.
Some 60 students from Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson middle schools in Edison packed a room at the Amazon fulfillment center Monday to build robots and celebrate National Robotics Week. As part of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) immersion experience, students built EV3 Lego robots, interacted with Amazon leaders and took a behind-the-scenes tour of Amazon's innovative Edison fulfillment center.
Amazon then surprised the students with a $20,000 donation to support the schools’ STEM program to support students who want to pursue a career in robotics.
Seeing the robots in action - pulling items off shelves and helping get them ready to be shipped out to customers - was an eye-oping experience for the students.
"It's crazy to see how our world is constantly changing around us," said Arushi Malki, an eighth-grader at Woodrow Wilson. "To see how hard it was to build a simple robotic arm and to see things on a much bigger scale in real life and how it affects us in ways we don't even see. We don't realize it. So much is happening behind the scenes with robots and robotics and machines."
There aren't too many better places to go than this new, 900,000 square-foot fulfillment center on Route 27 if you want to learn about STEM or robotics in particular.
Amazon has quickly become a technological, if not retail, giant since opening its first fulfillment center in New Jersey in 2012. That presence is felt strongest in Middlesex County, which is home to two fulfillment centers in Carteret, two in Woodbridge, one in Cranbury and this one in Edison
Spokesman Andrew Spata said, thanks in large part to robotics and technology, Amazon can have a product to your door in, say, New Brunswick within two hours of your order depending on its availability and shipping priority.
Such things were not a concern to the kids by mid-Monday morning. They were busy constructing their robots. Group 9's robot was one of the first to come to life, spinning around with a loud "whir." Group 2 was changing the tape-guided route its robot was taking to give it a softer turning motion.
Vishwa Muthuraman, also an eighth-grader at Woodrow Wilson said kids are falling in love with robotics because it has a cool factor as opposed to some other forms of science and technology.
"It's a new idea and kids nowadays are learning to like it more and more," he said.
Alex Urankar, general manager of the center, said that it was important to show the students a true depiction of how robots work with the associates.
"Hollywood shows robots in a lot of different ways and I'd say in most ways that don't actually incur in the real world," he said. "Our robots are working really hard to make our associates safer. That's the primary thing they do for us."
The robot brings the inventory to the associate who is working "in a station that's designed ergonomically to support less stress on their body and provide a safe work environment," Urankar said.