Local parents launch Robot Garage

New facility designed to get kids building, daily

By: Erin McClary | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published June 27, 2011

 Franklin residents Sarah and Jonathan Jacobs, owners of The Robot Garage, slated to officially open to the public June 1, hope their new business will provide a haven for builders young and old.

Franklin residents Sarah and Jonathan Jacobs, owners of The Robot Garage, slated to officially open to the public June 1, hope their new business will provide a haven for builders young and old.

Photo by Donna Agusti


BIRMINGHAM — Building robots and Lego submarines doesn’t have to be reserved for competitions anymore.

Beginning June 1, The Robot Garage is opening for dexterous and creative builders of all ages.

The 4,000-square-foot warehouse — completely renovated into a colorful retail shop and lab of classrooms — can also serve as a venue for a kiddie birthday bash.

“It’s very bright and colorful; it’s a place where kids will be happy and adults will enjoy,” said Sarah Jacobs, who co-owns The Robot Garage with her husband, Jonathan Jacobs.

The couple grew up in Michigan and moved to New York, where they lived for 10 years. There was no question, Jacobs said, that when she and her husband decided to start a family, it would be in Michigan.

Their love for New York, however, is evident in the industrial space they chose to create their concept: a warehouse in the Rail District of Birmingham. The Robot Garage is located at 637 N. Eton.

“My family has been obsessed with Legos for as long as I can remember,” said Jacobs, who has three daughters — only one of which is a “girly girl,” she said. The other two enjoy getting their hands dirty. The couple considered this in forming the gender-neutral Robot Garage.

Their daughters have competed in robotics and Lego tournaments, and loved it.

“We’ve learned, from watching our kids and going to these events, that all these things happen on the weekend, and there’s no place to do these things day in and day out in our community,” said Jacobs. “We spent a lot of time asking people why they think this won’t work. It’s scary to put everything you have into a new business — especially in this economy in Michigan with three kids. But with that conversation, we got more energy and more support.”

About a year ago, they decided to sit down and write up a business plan.

The Robot Garage’s grand opening was May 21-22.

Beginning next month, the facility is launching its rookie season with weeklong summer camps for kids, the Master’s Program and birthday parties. Summer camps start in late June and will be offered every week. The Master’s Program consists of five two-hour classes, and it’s intergenerational, meaning parents and grandparents can sign up, too.

Class sizes are limited to ensure a more personal mentoring building experience, said Jacobs, a Franklin resident. Drop-ins are welcome. Kids 8 and younger must sign up with an adult.

“Our programs will be run by teachers and mentors, but we’re trying to have assistants in every class,” said Jacobs. “And kids are coming out of the woodwork that want to work here.”

Once they’re in full swing, the couple plans on offering daytime programs for seniors, field trips and parent-toddler classes.

Jacobs and her husband sought out Walt Hickok to help build their curriculum. Hickok is Michigan’s ambassador for the worldwide First Lego League, or FLL program, and he’s experienced in student engineering and robotics.

He got involved with The Robot Garage about a year ago. Now he’s heading up its Master’s Program.

Hickok got involved, he said, to help. This is just the thing for kids who enjoy building, he added.

“I have seen nothing like this in the past. Within the FLL organization, we have some training and things like that,” he said. “This gives kids a chance to do something in the scientific world that they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. That’s what really drew me to the program.”

He said there are dance classes and sporting programs that kids can get involved with and be a part of every day or throughout the week, but robotics is generally only an occasional thing. Hickok recently retired from GM after a 30-year career.

“Kids can come and do this at their own speed, do as much as they want or as little as they want, or go as far as they want,” he said. “This gets them excited to think about science and robots as a career.”

On the retail end, Jacobs said The Robot Garage serves as a sort of “reinvented hardware store” for people who build robots. They’ll be selling everything from Lego and Erector Sets, to collectible toy robots and real robots. Batteries and robotic materials will also be available.

For information, visit www.therobotgarage.com.