Kids create the darndest robots

With their sponge-like minds, Google Canada put youths' brains and imagination to the test with a Toronto geek fest.

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You can lead a child to a robot, but can you make them learn how to code? Google sure thinks so.

The Distillery District has been home to many events in Toronto, from weddings to Christmas markets to street art fairs, but never would it be considered a cradle for dozens of robots and thousands of kid geeks. For the first time in Canada, after a smaller experimental run in New York last year, Google Canada set up a Geek Street fair in the downtown precinct on Thursday, where robotics, science experiments, 3D-printed selfies, virtual reality games, to name a few, were there to teach kids about the exciting world of technology.

“Think traditional Toronto street fair, but instead of roti and bratwurst, it’s robots and 3D selfies!” wrote Stergios Anastasiadis, engineering manager, Google Kitchener-Waterloo, in a company blog post while at yesterday’s event.

The event wasn’t just to show off Google’s 23 technology partners to 2,000 kids (who were part of various summer camps and ranged from age six to 12), it was a chance to give them tangible experiences that would teach them about the “zeros and ones, creative minds and programming” that’s behind the devices they use, says Aaron Brindle, communications manager at Google Canada. “A lot of this stuff is rudimentary, but it’s to show them that they can actually do this,” he adds.

“Technology is part of our society, it’s no longer siloed into its own thing. Long term, we need technology builders…and our job in the community is to act as a technology anchor, and give them the opportunity to see the potential and be a part of a [youth's] decision to pursue this type of career and hopefully help change the world.”

While the company’s been active in pursuing business partners with events such as Think Brand Week in the spring, this is the biggest public community program it has done since it arrived in Canada, and is on the heels of its first-ever out-of-home campaign in the country, which took place during the World Cup. Partners at the Geek Street event included companies such as CFC Media, which taught kids how to podcast and vlog, Inter/Access, which created tactile sound visualization using coding and motors, and OCAD University, which invited youth to play with augmented reality to highlight art, design and technology.