Learning from Legos: Robotics facility planned at 28 Prospect Street

The library may soon have some new colorful and robotic neighbors.

Semia USA, a Lego and robotics education company, filed an application with the town’s Planning and Zoning Department last week to open an educational facility at 28 Prospect Street — the current campaign headquarters of the Democratic party, next to Eddie’s Pizza.

“This is sort of a Lego-based learning center,” said Eugene Zhang, Semia USA’s managing director told The Press on Oct. 5. “It’s basically for kids three and up. They learn through play. And then the older kids will learn through making things.”

Zhang, a 1987 graduate of Ridgefield High School, applied for a special permit at the address to change its use to educational. The property sits in the Central Business District (commonly referred to as the “CBD”) — in downtown Ridgefield. The site is currently owned by Gorgeous Associates, LLC.

The plan calls for the 1,000-square-foot space to be divided into two classrooms, with a maximum of 10 kids in each classroom and four instructors total. According to a letter from Zhang included in the application, birthday parties that would be held at the facility may host up to 50 people. The business would not host large-scale events, like a “robotics competitions,” Zhang said.

If the new facility is approved, Zhang said he hopes to add robotics programs in the future, with seminars for the community to find instructors.

“After moving back to settle in Ridgefield again,” Zhang said he would like to “open up this learning center to give kids in this town an opportunity to experience the joy of learning through making Lego robots.”

‘Lucky ones’

Zhang founded Semia a little over a decade after he graduated from RHS.

His family immigrated from Fuzhou, located in the southern part of China, to the United States in 1981. Zhang was 12 years old.

While he attended middle school at East Ridge, the school hired a Chinese tutor to help him learn English.

“We were one of the lucky ones,” he said.

Robot Olympiad

After he graduated, Zhang left Ridgefield to return to China in 1995, eventually founding Semia Education Technology Limited in China and Hong Kong in 2000.

His company is one of the founding members of the World Robot Olympiad, an annual robotics competition begun in 2004.

“The kids come together and they have to build their robot to trace a line … or anything you can imagine,” Zhang told The Press.

Kids program the robots using basic coding languages — one is developed by Lego, but other contestants use Scratch, a visual language developed by MIT to teach kids the basics of code.

From there, robots can be taught to follow a path using a light-sensor, or complete miniature tasks, like “search and rescue” for specifically-colored objects left on a tabletop. The competition can even include robot soccer games — “it gets complicated,” Zhang said.

“Hopefully, we’ll get our learning center and we’ll have something in Ridgefield,” he said.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on the application on Tuesday, Oct. 23.