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CARY'S ROB MACKIE TAPS KIDS' CREATIVITY WITH ROBOTS

Rob Mackie tends to dive headlong into a new project. It’s a mentality that led him to help create a scholarship so he could study Russian in the Soviet Union, and to build his own fully functioning electric car. So maybe it isn’t surprising that only months after his children became involved with the Wake Robotics team, the software engineer bought his parents’ former home for the express purpose of turning it into a robot-building paradise. “I usually don’t do things halfway,” says Mackie, 50, who previously ran an English language school and a windsurfing business. “I don’t hold a lot back.” But what is surprising is the wide-ranging impact the modest home on the outskirts of Cary, nicknamed “The Forge,” has had on the club, which is in the midst of a six-week-long competition to build a Frisbee-throwing robot.

What started as a site for a dozen or so high schoolers to learn and build now buzzes with the activity of about 60 students from ages 6 to 18. On most nights and weekends, they tinker with LEGO blocks in its back bedrooms, learn to use power tools in the workshop, and engage in the kind of cooperative learning that is the club’s ultimate goal. Linda Whipker, a home-schooling mother who co-founded the 3-year-old club, says the group has been transformed with Mackie’s help.

“We’re operating on a whole new level from where we were,” says Whipker, president of Wake Robotics. “He has given us more space, more tools, and a huge amount of energy. He never runs out of ideas.”

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Charlotte Observer