Thursday, May 25, 2017

ROBOFEST: Students Engineer and Operate Their Own Robots

Robofest at Lawrence Tech draws school-age engineers and their self-driving machines

(TNS) -- The potential designers and engineers of tomorrow's self-driving vehicles showed off their most promising work Saturday at the annual running of a popular autonomous robots competition.
More than 300 students from middle schools, high schools and colleges across Michigan participated in Robofest, the autonomous robotics festival put on by Lawrence Technological University.
The competition has grown in size since its first year in 1999 and has included teams from at least 13 states and countries including Brazil, China, Mexico, Singapore, France and nearby Canada.
Saturday's event was the state championship meet and featured 93 teams. The day's highest-scoring 15 teams will go to the Robofest World Championships next month in St. Pete Beach, Fla.
The overall goal is to encourage students to master principles in science, technology, engineering, math and computer science.

Robofest founder CJ Chung, a math and computer science professor at Lawrence Tech, said he wants to see these Michigan students someday help Michigan companies compete in the war for talent in emerging high-tech fields, such as autonomous driving and artificial intelligence.

“I think it’s time to regain our potential by providing more software developers and artificial intelligence developers," he said. “Many companies are looking for software developers for autonomous-driving vehicles, so we are creating a pipeline of developers. We should not lose the title of automotive capital.”

One of the competition's stars on Saturday was Nathaniel Lee, 18, of Detroit, who will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) this fall. He is a senior at the private Roeper School where, along with freshman Steven Raphael, 14, he created one of the most complex home-brewed robots on display.

Lee has taken part in Robofest since his eighth-grade year at the former Friends School in Detroit. He credits his grandmother with sparking his interest in robotics when she gave him a subscription to Make: magazine, which features many do-it-yourself projects.

Their mobile robot contained its own unique electronics and circuit boards (no off-the-shelf controllers) and made use of laser-cut wooden parts. It had the ability to see and maneuver around the obstacles in its path during the competition — no input needed from humans.

“It uses an ultrasonic distance sensor that sends out an ultrasonic pulse, and then it reads how long it takes for that pulse to come back to it," Lee explained.

Unfortunately, their robot failed to hit a ping pong ball through a football-like goal, a key task for Saturday's competition. Lee attributed that difficulty to the hard challenge of reprogramming their machine in just 30 minutes to the surprise setup of this year's robot competition board.
"We struggled a bit today," he said.

A young team from Parkway Christian School in Sterling Heights earned applause from the audience when their robot successfully swung its pencil to hit the ping pong ball, which was perched atop a Dasani water bottle. Few teams could make it that far.

The robot belonged to Meghan O'Kane, 13, and Guppi Bryant, 14, who began work on it in December with an after-school club at Parkway Christian.

"It was hard at times, but we've been doing this for a few years, so we know how to do it," Guppi said.
Event organizers said about 30% of Robofest participants are girls, a figure they would like to increase.
©2017 the Detroit Free Press Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Friday, May 19, 2017

FROM Microsoft's

Hacking STEM Lessons & Hands-On Activities

"Building Machines That Emulate Humans

Students build robotic models from cardboard and straws to understand the anatomy and biomechanics of the human hand. Then, they conduct trials visualizing data in Excel to generate new ideas for improving it’s performance.

Lesson Basics

Takes 1.5 to 3 weeks of classroom time
Costs approximately $3.00 USD per student, excluding tools and microcontroller
Meets middle school science, technology, engineering and math standards (STEM)

What you'll need

picture of the Robotic Hand instruction guide showing some of the steps on how to create the Robotic Hand.


A step-by-step guide for building the Sensorized Glove and the Robotic Hand. Includes templates, a list of things you need and detailed instructions.

Picture of the Robotic Hand Excel workbook being used alongside the Robotic Hand.

Customized Excel Workbook

A customized Excel workbook visualizes real-time biomechanical data from sensor equipped gloves. Requires the Project Córdoba add-in listed below.

Picture of required materials such as scissors, glue gun, pen, rubber bands etc.

Materials List

A spreadsheet with links to online resources to help you bring these projects to your classroom.


FREE Robotics Workshops for Teachers, Students, and Parents from Microsoft

From my In Box - Looks like a great learning opportunity! :)...

Building Flex Sensors
Join us any Saturday in May for a hands-on STEM learning experience at your local Microsoft Store*.
Teachers, students, and parents are welcome to drop by the store to participate in this 30-minute project-based learning experience. The project is designed for 11- to 14-year-old students but can easily be completed by younger students with parental support. 
  • By the end of the experience, participants will have learned:
    How to build a flex sensor that lets them control a robotic finger with their own finger.
    How to use a Surface and Excel to visualize the flexion and extension of their finger. 
    Basic skills typically used by mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and data scientists. 
The sensor and robotic finger are just two activities from the Building Machines That Emulate Humans lesson plan. All lesson plans and activities are available at

*Times and availability vary by location

Monday, May 15, 2017

A robot that will weed the garden and fascinate today's kids

Are they Household Robots? OR are they tempting Learning Opportunities that beckon to kids? You know the answer; learning STEM content and skills is about access to robots! Hey, the home of tomorrow is going to be an environment that features robots, lots of them. This one is not only good for gardens and gardeners, but also for kids preparing themselves to understand the world they are going to create! Could be STEM Learning waiting to happen...
(Information about the Tertill robot sent to me by Joe Jones, the inventor of the Roomba Robot and Founder/CTO of Franklin Robotics. )


More info about Tertill, the garden robot, at: 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Learning for Employability: Student Robotics Is Perfect!

Below, a very worthwhile post from EdWeek (see link at the bottom of this page)... In preparing today's students to be employable in the age of robots, Robotics itself is a perfect learning activity!It very strongly embraces and fosters all of the varieties of learning discussed in this article...

Ready for the Robots? Let's Prepare Every Student for the Future of Work

Could you be replaced by a robot? If not today, will automation claim your job--or your children's jobs--within several decades? As anxieties escalate about the "Future of Work," few things are certain but this: No one can predict exactly what the jobs of the future will be.

"But what about the skills of the future? Which abilities are most vital for young people to able to navigate an ever-changing economy? Turns out that's something more and more people agree on, and it's not memorizing facts and reproducing content knowledge. Rather, as Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the international PISA tests that compare student performance around the world, puts it: "extrapolating from what we know and applying that knowledge to novel situations."

"... replace the narrow learning goals of the past 15 years with renewed efforts to ensure that all students attain the full range of intellectual, personal, and social skills valued in today's economy--and the economies of the future--in this rapidly changing world.... "employability skills"--mirror the deeper learning competencies... the ability to think critically and solve complex problems, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, learn how to learn, and develop a mindset for continuous learning and mastering content are the essence of deeper learning.... these are the skills that can keep students agile in the uncertain future of work."

How Can We Foster These Skills in All Students?

"...a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom is not the only, nor sometimes even the best place to teach skills for deeper learning..."

"There is no question automation and robots already are and will take on more work in the future. But it is also undeniable that the most capable people to thrive in new and changing environments will be those who are complex problem solvers, able collaborators, creative thinkers, and skilled communicators..." 

Read the full article at its source: 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

World Champion Student Robots!

There's a wonderful continuum" LEGO WeDo Robotics for early elementary grades... FLL JR. (First LEGO League Junior) international competition for upper elementary students... the FLL (First LEGO League) competition for middle school and above... and then, like the Greybots here, high school level programs for the FIRST Competition, for which they are being praised in this piece...

"Atascadero High robotics team crushes 400 other groups to win world championship"

Atascadero High School’s robotics team, The Greybots, took home its second world championship title over the weekend.

The Greybots, an 18-student team that works out of Atascadero High School but includes students from around San Luis Obispo County, competed against 400 teams from around the world to win the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) World Championship in Houston.
The Greybots last won the world championship title in 2011.

The Greybots had just six weeks to construct their robot before their first competition, the Central Valley Regional Robotics Competition, held March 9 through March 12 in Madera, said Leila Silver, a San Luis Obispo High School sophomore and assistant captain of media and marketing for the team.
Some students spent as many as 54 hours a week working on the robot, Silver said.

The Greybots didn’t win the Central Valley Regional, but they did receive an award for their professionalism, and they secured a berth at the world championship when they paired up with the Citrus Circuits team from Davis and placed second at the FIRST Sacramento Regional Competition held in late March.

Finally, the team took part in the world championships held at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
“This has been a dream of many of ours for an extremely long time,” Silver said. “Many of us thought we wouldn’t be the team to pull this off, but we did. We succeeded.”
“We’re feeling amazing.”

The team is not resting on its laurels, though.
Silver said The Greybots will move on to compete in the FIRST Festival of Champions, which will be held July 28 and 29 in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Read the full article at its source:

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"Octopus Inspires World's First Soft, Autonomous Robot

It's cheap to 3-D print, moves under its own power—and doesn't hurt if it bumps into you. Meet octobot, herald of a robotics revolution."

It's cheap to 3-D print, moves under its own power—and doesn't hurt if it bumps into you. Meet octobot, herald of a robotics revolution."

This story appears in the May 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine.

"Banish your preconceptions of robots as stiff, herky-jerky metal machines. An “octobot” less than three inches wide is changing the robotics landscape.

The octobot is the world’s first completely soft, autonomous, and untethered robot. It is free of wires, batteries, and any hard material—like its namesake, the octopus, which has no internal skeleton.
A Harvard University research team led by engineering professors Robert Wood and Jennifer Lewis tried more than 300 designs before they came up with one that worked. And now the octobot could revolutionize the use of robots. Traditional robots are “fantastic for what they do in terms of automation, but they’re not geared toward human interaction,” Wood says. Soft robots provide a safer solution: “If they run into something, it’d be like bumping into a basketball. It won’t hurt you.”

Before the octobot, soft robots were either hybrids—pliable exteriors with hard guts of batteries or wires—or soft models tethered to an external cord. The octobot eliminates these restrictions. It moves by pneumatic power: An internal circuit triggers chemical reactions, turning its liquid hydrogen peroxide fuel into a gas, which inflates the robot’s limbs and allows them to move. The whole assembly is created from silicone using a 3-D printer.
The octobot is currently a prototype, but its writhing arms prove that the technology works. The goal, says Wood, is to find viable applications, such as in health care. Soft robots could be made from biocompatible and biodegradable materials—and, he says, might even be formed into capsules to be swallowed for more effective and less invasive endoscopies..."

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Robotics Promotes a Culture of Creativity in the Classroom

A VERY worthwhile piece from Tech & Learning:

"3 Reasons Why Robotics Promotes a Culture of Creativity in the Classroom"
4/14/2017 5:50:00 AM
By Guest Blogger Lynne Boucher

"To meet the challenges of the modern workplace, today’s education is calling for curriculum that integrates STEM learning and creative problem solving in the classroom. I have found that creativity in the classroom is better harnessed when it is encouraged and is critical for today’s students, particularly when using robotics.
Below are the top three reasons I believe robotics can promote a culture of creativity in your classroom, ultimately helping propel the next generation of innovators forward:

1. Robotics offers a new idea of what creativity looks like
One common misconception about creativity that many of my students have is that to be creative, you need to have a knack for drawing, painting or storytelling. What I try to teach through robotics is what I believe the true definition of creativity is: doing or thinking about things differently. I recently needed to help my middle school students understand what a two-stage rocket is and why it is important to modern rocketry.  The challenge I gave them was to get a marshmallow as far across the floor as possible using a two-stage concept.  Students had to build a device that could be robotically activated for the first stage which was a 5’ foot distance, the robot then had to deploy a second force to continue moving the marshmallow to the greatest distance possible.  

By being creative as teachers and incorporating robotics into our lesson plans, we can show students that it is possible for creativity to go hand in hand in math, science, coding and more.

2. Open-ended challenges reveal there can be multiple solutions for a given problem 
Robotics frequently present open-ended challenges that do not lead to single solution. Forcing students to experiment changes the way they think about approaching problems, and encourages them to get creative. Another challenge I conducted in the classroom involved moving tethered robots across a finish line without the use of human force. One group in this challenge created straws with the available materials so they could blow their robots across the finish line. This prompted an interactive discussion and “light bulb” moments where students think creatively within the parameters of a problem.  

3. Students learn the importance of taking risks 
Students who are not exposed to open-ended challenges can struggle with going against the conventional structure of a classroom, and will often search for what they perceive to be a single “correct” answer. It is important to reinforce to these students that the core of creative thinking involves an element of risk. During a study of famous artists I did with my 4th and 5th graders, students had to choose a work of art and then problem solve how to make that art work move using gears, servos, and programming.  These students had very little to no experience with robotics so this was a bit frustrating for them at first as they learned the basics of robotics engineering.  We had many of what of my students called “epic fails,” but the key was that they kept trying new things. This is what risk-taking is all about!.."

Read the full article at its source:

"Lynne Boucher is the STEAM Director and Educator at Viera Charter School and a LEGO Education Ambassador Program (LEAP) teacher."