Tuesday, October 6, 2015

It's design review time...

Today during the robotics meeting we did a mini design review of the robots that the kids created.  We went over the design features of their robots and gave them feedback on things that they could do to improve their designs.  Most of the robots used 1 connector per beam, which caused their attachments to pivot.  So we explained how putting two connectors per beam would strengthen the structural integrity of the design and make it more robust.  We also cover the “KISS” concept:

·         K – eep
·         I – t
·         S – uper
·         S – imple

and went over the advantages of having a simpler design over a more complex one, assuming that both achieved the required goal (simpler is cheaper to make, faster to design and easier to debug).

This week concluded our section on motors.  Next week we’ll teach the kids about the ultrasonic sensor (what it is, how it works and how to use it), and we may even start learning about loops and switches.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lost your pet... don't worry, we have a robot for that!

Here is an update on what has happened on the last couple of club meetings.  Last week we gave every team a small challenge to put in practice all of what they have learned so far.  We created a scenario where their favorite pet (a cat or a dog) go stranded in a place far away (24 inches away), and they had to create an attachment for their robot and program it to go get their pet for them.  Everyone did great!  I believe that at the end of the meeting on Tuesday, every team had successfully rescued their pet at one time or another (thanks to our parent volunteers, Scott and Ken, for spending one-on-one time helping the kids with the challenge). 

Next week, we’ll review every robot creation individually and make suggestions on how to improve their design.  We will treat their creations as product development prototypes and thus, cover topics on structural integrity, ways to improve consistency of results and cost analysis.  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Measuring time...

Today we started by splitting everyone into permanent pairs and assigning each pair a particular robot.  Our goal was to figure out how far the robot moves per rotation of each wheel so that we can predict where the robot will end up as we program it to go places.  We used three different methods to find out this information.  First, we used the formula for the perimeter of a circle (P):

                P = π * D


                π = 3.14159

and D is the wheel’s diameter (diameter is a straight imaginary line that passes through the center of the circle and cuts it in half).   So each pair got a tape measure and proceeded to measure the diameter of the wheel.  Almost everyone arrived at 1 5/8 inches for the diameter of the robot wheels.  Which created the following issue.  How do we convert 1 5/8 inches to a decimal value that we can plug into a calculator?  So we explained that to do this, we did the following:

                5 ÷ 8 + 1 = 1.625 inches

and when we plug this value into the perimeter equation we get:

                P = 3.14159 * 1.625 = 5.1 inches

Next, we asked everyone to program their robots to turn both wheels 1 rotation and asked them to measure how far the robot moved.  Almost everyone measured 5 1/8 inches.  Finally, we asked everyone to program their robots to turn both wheels 5 rotations and measure again.  This time some kids got measurements of 25 inches, 25.5 inches and others 26 inches.  So now we know how far the robot moves per each wheel rotation.

Next week, we’ll put all of what we have learned so far into practice.  We will give the kids a “Rescue” mission, where the robots start from base and should be programmed to fetch a  stranded Lego figure/pet from a given location and bring it back to base.  It should be lots of fun.  Also, if you can, go over some of these concepts with your kids at home.  We went over them very quickly during the meeting, but this is where they get to apply the theoretical knowledge that they learn in school to real life situations.  Try asking them to figure out how far your car moves for each rotation of your car’s wheels.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The 5 Minute Robot

Let me first start by acknowledging Ken Rothwell and Scott Wheeler.  They have graciously volunteered to help out with the Robotics Club for this school year.  I was not able to be there for the meeting today, so Ken and Scott stepped up to the plate and led the club.  Today, the kids built the base robot.  Everyone was able to finish building their robot, and some were even able to put in practice what they learned last week and programmed their robots to go places.   I think that the following quote from Ken pretty much summarizes how the meeting went today:

                “It was hard to get the kids to stop and go to class. The bell rang but everyone stayed until 9. The tracked out kids wanted to do even more.”

Just in case you are curious, the base robot should look something like this:

For more projects like this, check out this website:


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Avoid the mines!!!

We had a great turn out at the club today, all 20 members were present.  We started with a brief conversation about how you cannot just talk to the robot and instruct it to do things.  Instead someone had to invent a new way of communicating with the robots (computers) and this is how programming languages came to exist.  So, to drive this point home, the we had the kids do an activity similar to “Mine Hunt”, except that it is more like “Avoid the Mines”.   We asked them to divide into 4 groups, and each group had to designate 1 member to be “the robot”.  Then, we asked the teams to invent a way to control “the robot” so that it would navigate through a mine field and avoid stepping on any mines (pieces of paper on the floor).  The catch is, they cannot use any kind of verbal communication.  All of the teams did great, an all of them were able to make it through the mine field safe and sound.  Most of the teams used some form of clapping communication scheme, and one of them actually used a whistle command to have their robot skip over a mine!  You may want to ask your child what kind of communication method did they use.

Then, on the second part of the meeting we introduced the actual programming environment.  Everyone broke up into pairs again, powered up a laptop and we showed them how to start the programming software.  Each group was given a brick, a motor and some wires, and they learned how to download a program into the robot and control the motor.  This was a great stopping point for this week.  Next week we are actually going to build the base robot that we’ll use for the rest of the year.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

First Meeting of the 2015-2016 School Year!

First, let me say that it was great to meet all the kids and some of the parents.  There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the room.  We started by introducing ourselves to everyone in the club.  Some of the girls and boys had to be encouraged to speak a bit louder, but other than that, they did great.  Then we showed one of my favorite videos from NASA.  Here is link to it:


I know it is a bit dated by now, but I still find myself fascinated by it every time I watch it.  The video is a great example of what makes a robot different than other machines.  Robots have sensors and can be programmed, thus they can react accordingly to the environment they are in.  That’s why they can land themselves in Mars.

Finally, to wrap up the meeting, we split the group into pairs, and let them explore how to use the “brick” (this is the main part of the robot where the processor is housed) and the motors and ultrasonic sensor.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

2015-2016 Robotics club application forms are available now...

Are you in 4th or 5th grade? Interested in joining the Robotics Club?  Well, then fill out the following application form:
Make sure that you turn it in before August 21, 2015 at the school's front desk, or the PTA mailbox located at the front door of the school.  Also, don't forget to include your essay.