Friday, April 16, 2010

MoonBots blast off... ???

It feels like a long time since the MoonBots challenge was first announced, but it looks like some more details are finally about to emerge...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Astroboy In Roboland

This documentary sounds interesting...

Astroboy In Roboland
(SBSTWO, Thursday 22nd April, 2010)
Looks at how robots of all sizes, shapes and functions are being developed and put into use in Japan. (From France in Japanese, English subtitles) (Documentary) G CC WS

Thanks Colin for the heads up!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Build a tower" and other design challenges

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a couple of workshops held by Chris Rogers at ACEC2010. Chris Rogers is an engineering education guru who will be guiding my study and research at Tufts later this year.

I enjoyed the various design challenges that Chris gave us in the workshops. Across the two 2-hour workshops, the challenges included...
  • In pairs, build the tallest tower that you can using the small bag of technic/NXT LEGO pieces provided. You have 5 minutes, and you may only use your non-dominant hand!
  • In pairs, build a robot that can move forward, but wheels can't be use as wheels (most teams didn't have any wheels). Time: 1 hour. The NXT must either be part of the robot, or dragged along the ground. (I.e. the NXT brick can't be carried by a human following along)
  • Individually (and without looking at anyone else's work!), you have 3 minutes to build a duck from six LEGO pieces: two red 2x3 red plates, two 2x2 yellow bricks, one 2x4 yellow brick, and one 1x2 yellow brick.
  • In pairs, build a structure using all your pieces that stays together when it is pushed off the table... without any talking! (you can, however, use pencil/paper or any other non-verbal communcation.) Time: 5 minutes.
  • In pairs, build a structure to hold the NXT brick off the table surface... using only one hand.
  • In pairs, create an arm that can detect and move giant smartie chocolates into different position based on their colour.
The themes that emerged from these challenges related to engineering design and included:
  • the importance of goal clarification
  • understanding the client's needs
  • design limitations/constraints
  • multiple (and varied) solutions to single goal

Tower building in my robotics class
I was keen to try some with my own students as soon as possible, so I gave my students the tower building challenge. I didn't have separate bags of pieces ready to go, so instead...
  • I asked each student to go to the parts cupboard and select any 10 non-electronic pieces they liked. At this stage they had no idea what the challenge would be, so I suggested that take a range of pieces, eg. include beams, axles, connectors, etc.
  • Back in the room, I put them into groups of three (pairs would've been fine too), including people they wouldn't normally work with.
  • I gave them 5 minutes to build the tallest tower they could out of their combined pieces, using only their non-dominant hands.
  • We compared the models, and noted that some were more stable than others. Conveniently (from a teaching point of view), the tallest towers fell over when their tables were shoved, but the shortest towerdidn't. We discussed why this might be the case, and one of the students suggested the the centre of gravity might have something to do with the stability.
  • I gave them two minutes to discuss their strategies and exchange any of their parts for parts from the cupboard, on a 2 for 1 basis (ie. for each piece they take, they have to return two pieces).
  • They then had five more minutes to rebuild their tower, and we compared the results.
  • In the end, the tallest tower was also the most stable. It was also from the team that traded the most pieces. It had three large, thin wheels as the base, and the height came simply from axles and straight axle connectors. It provided a striking example of a low centre of gravity, and was a great way to finish the activity.

Dennis Hong: My seven species of robot

In this excellent video, Dennis Hong describes an amazing variety of robots made by his team at RoMeLa, Virginia Tech.

It provides a particularly good demonstration of alternate movement systems, including the most impressive humanoid RoboCup soccer playing robot that I've ever seen, and concludes with some insights into his creative process.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hardie Fellowship: In the beginning...

Last year I received a Hardie Fellowship to undertake research and study at the Tufts University's Centre for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) in Boston Massachusetts for six months from July/August 2010 – January 2011. Thank you Professor Hardie!

In the time since preparing my application, I've been busy reading through the literature and trying to form a clearer picture of what I want to do while in Boston. I still want to find a balance between study and research while I'm away, but the emphasis of the research apsect of the trip has shifted somewhat from what I stated in my application. Specifcally, my focus has changed from investigating the benefits or "efficacy" of robotics-based education (too difficult to produce hard data) to the ingredients of a successful robotics classroom.

I'll post more about all this later, but for now, here's a summary of what was in my original application...

1. Undertake preliminary research into the efficacy of robotics-based education to improve student learning outcomes
  • Undertake a literature review of research relating to robotics education
  • Interview some of the experts in the field of robotics education
  • Develop and trial assessment/measurement tools that could be used in a subsequent study longitudinal study.
2. Undertake study in robotics-based education, “constructionist” pedagogies, and/or engineering topics related to robotics
  • Gain a deeper understanding of current trends in “constructionist” pedagogies
  • Strengthen his ability to help students and teachers develop understanding of engineering concepts relevant to robotics.