National Robotics Week is well under way, and taking advantage of events in your area or managing your own robotics expo is going to help ramp up your STEM program. Development in the world of robotics are moving at a frenetic pace. Many aspect of our lives are somehow influenced by robots, and scientists and engineers continue to find new ways to bring these devices from military and industrial applications to the home, hospital and school. Robots in science fiction have been popular for a hundred years, and today’s movies, Televison and online videos feature robots that keep us talking about them on a regular basis. In honor of National Robotics Week, the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society has made their iPad app available for free. The app showcases some of the world’s most advanced robots such as BigDog and Robonaut, allowing the user to virtually interact with the robot to better understand its functions. No student (or teacher for that matter) can resist the urge to see what these amazing machines can do.
Recognition of the reality that robots are here and their economic importance makes it obvious that the study of robotics is a crucial part of any STEM education program. Many STEM programs are centered around robotics because the field is so broad-based that it brings to bear every STEM discipline. The many opportunities for competitive robotics for secondary students can turn a science and engineering pursuit into a sport of the mind, motivating kids to stay engaged in the subject matter beyond the confines of a classroom period.
Robots come in many forms, but two main distinctions can easily be made for the educator: Remote-controlled and autonomous robots. Remote-controlled robots respond to commands from an external source, such as a radio transmitter or infra red remote. Autonomous robots have sensors and programming that gives them a degree of independence from external influence, such as a robot vacuum. Combining these two into a hybrid system is a third type of robot, where autonomous routines can take place in conjunction with remote operations. This is seen in certain military robots such as drones and FIRST Robotics Competition ‘bots.
CNC (Computer Numeric Controlled) machines of various types can be considered robots as well. These semi-autonomous devices are programmed by the user to build things using processes that were once under human control, now machined with extreme precision under computer control. Thanks to efficiencies in manufacturing the cost of CNC machines for the classroom has been reduced to a realistic level for many school environments. The creation of robots using other robots brings the experience full circle for STEM students who are provided with this opportunity.
Making use of CNC machines to create robots will be the focus of a new series of project-based STEM lessons over the next several weeks on TeachSTEMNow. We will take advantage of the ubiquity of the Arduino microcontroller that has found its way into thousands of classrooms to do a number of projects that will incorporate all of the latest developments in content delivery, hardware and software for educators. Students will learn to program the Arduino as well as the CNC mill to manufacture components for robotic mechanical systems. They will learn how robots interact with their environment, how to control robot behavior, and create components they need to build a complete autonomous robot. These lessons are guaranteed to help drive your classroom toward the ‘100 percent engagement, 100 percent of the time’ model that makes the most of student potential. Stay tuned.