Brooklyn Robot Foundry co-founder Jenny Young grew up in Ohio, where she spent years building and taking things apart with her father in her family’s garage. Then she moved to New York City, where families don’t have garages. So Young and a friend founded Brooklyn Robot Foundry in 2011 in hopes of providing a garage for every kid.
The point isn’t to build an advanced robot that could assist NASA astronauts in space. Most of the robots built at the foundry have very simple functions, such as blinking lights or spinning in a circle. The point is more to teach kids how motors, circuits and lights work together, giving them the freedom to build things on their own. In the process, Brooklyn Robot Foundry expose kids to fun that bleeds into an interest in the STEM fields.
“The kids really love what they made,” Young said. “It’s not a super polished looking toy when it’s done, but they do understand the concepts behind it. It’s more about the process than the final product.”
Since the foundry’s founding, the staff has created class curriculums for ages 4-13. They sell out classes regularly and teach kids everything from soldering to how to make a flying robot.
Young said the demand shows there is a hunger in Brooklyn to provide kids with hands-on experiences. They usually find that kids prefer the robots they create, which they get to take home after visiting the foundry, to store-bought toys. The process of building and coming to understand the mechanics behind a toy makes it more fascinating. Young said the most affirming stories come from parents who say their child took their robot home and then took it apart again, rebuilding it into something new.
“That’s exactly what we want them to do. We want them to know they can take things apart and put them back together,” Young said. “Maybe it was a car when it went home and then they want to turn it into an airplane.”
Young said the space widens the definition of a robot, which can be especially appealing to girls. Kids don’t have to build a “fighting ninja robot;” They have to define the basic purpose of a robot, but kids are free to design them however they want. They can take the form of a fluffy pink bunny or a zebra with a top hat. Kids with narrow interests can also find peers to relate to, which may difficult for them at school or home.
The result is a friendly, beginner-safe space where children can channel wild imaginations into cute robotic creations. Young said they sometimes have people ask if they run classes for adults, which they do occasionally. It’s easy to see why they ask; there is no real comparable place for adults to turn to learn basic robotics skills. There are makerspaces and college classes, but they can be intimidating and often aimed at those who already have existing knowledge.
Adults need a friendly place to learn and connect, too.