Sunday, December 16, 2018

Student Robotics: Bringing Vision, Opportunity, and Inspiration to Young People of Economically Stressed Kenya

I received an inspiring email from Brian Mwevi, describing some important work involving young people and robotics in Kibera, an 'informal settlement' on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya.

Please watch the video above and read Brian's note. Further, I recommend you take a close look at the final paragraph, watch the 2nd video, and visit the INDIEGOGO campaign, all below.  

"We are Tunapanda Institute, a social enterprise that focuses on the future of learning and working, beginning in sub-Saharan Africa. For the past 4 years, we have run training programs in technology, design, and business for young people in an informal settlement called Kibera.

I graduated from Tunapanda’s 7th cohort in 2017 and then joined the team as a tech trainer. I'm passionate about robotics and curious about solving the world's problems by sharing knowledge with the community. Recently, through Tunapanda Institute, I did a 5-day robotics bootcamp with kids here in Kibera using Lego Mindstorms blocks. We also created a video about the bootcamp and how excited the kids were (above)

We are now working on a new program to help young people imagine space travel while also developing important skills for here on Earth, such as critical thinking and problem-solving through robotics..."  link to INDIEGOGO campaign

Friday, December 14, 2018

High School Girl Builds Robot for Local Sheriff's Department

Oak Park teen saving local law enforcement hundreds of dollars with robotics project

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Jaeza Robertson, 17, of Oak Park High School, is a unique young lady.
She has an impressive resume in the classroom, a National Hispanic Merit Scholar, AP Scholar, and a Wendy Heisman Scholarship recipient.

You could call her the "queen of robotics.

"I like to weld. That's what I really like to do. Welding is really fun."
The self proclaimed "Tom Boy" has a passion for sports and robotics.
In fact, her efforts on a project will save her local law enforcement office hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"I started a team in my basement, it was like Legos."
That was at the age of 11.

"I became a little bit obsessed in my basement trying to figure, 'oh how can we make this one better? How can we do better on this?' And it really captured my imagination."

Fastforward six years and Jaeza is already a world championship winner.
There were 140 teams who had managed to advance to the final level out of thousands and thousands of teams. Jaeza and her team, The Astromechs were given the challenge to build a robot that stacks cubes.
"We had this lifter that folded up with a single motor and it was spring powered so it folded up and we would load cubes on top of it, and then it would spring up."

It certainly captured the attention of the judges. Jaeza and her team of 11 took home the innovative design award at the competition in Houston, Texas.

"When I have a project I'm working on I'm really focused on pushing to the finish line."
Jaeza and her Oak Park High School's robotics team are building a robot that will be a part of the department's crisis negotiations team.

In fact, once fully operational, it will be used in hostage situations to get necessary items to those requesting them, without putting members of the force directly in harms way.
Something like this doesn't come cheap.

"We're working on mounting an arm to open doors and things like that," Jaeza said.
Major Erik Holland with the Platte County Sheriff's Office said a robot of this caliber would typically cost in the six figures. But with the help of Jaeza and her robotics team, the price tag is right about $5,000.
Her efforts are being praised by folks around the world.

The Oak Park senior plans to become a biological systems engineer, saying she wants to make human life better through engineering. Clearly, she is well on her way.
"This is important to me. It's important to me to give back to the community."

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Powerful Impact of a Robotics Team on A School's Student Body

The transformative impact that this school's robotics team has had on its students is  hard to measure. Now, completing its first 20 years it is going stronger than ever. Morris High School is in an urban, inner city neighborhood in the Bronx (NYC), yet it is unquestionably one of the most successful teams ever !!! Congratulations, 2TrainRobotics!

Read the full story at its source:


Morris HS’s 2TrainRobotics celebrates 20th anniversary

Schneps Community News Group/ Alex Mitchell
Schneps Community News Group/ Alex Mitchell
Students design 3D components to robot
By Alex Mitchell
Schneps Community News Group/ Alex Mitchell
Last year’s robot, Zoidberg.
Schneps Community News Group/ Alex Mitchell
The robot’s series of controls.

Sometime during the upcoming 2019 MLB season the New York Yankees will get a glimpse of what its future talent pool may look like when a ‘bot’ throws out the game’s first pitch.
The event will mark Morris High School robotics team’s 20th anniversary. The celebrated robotics team has come a very long way since Windows 98.
First booted up by Morris High School business teacher Gary Israel in 1999, it was the Bronx’ first ever robotics team and it had a lot to prove.
After winning countless competitions, earning sponsorships from the New York Yankees and Bloomberg, in addition to landing a workspace at Columbia University’s school of Engineering, the Morris High School team did just that.
Now called 2TrainRobotics, it’s nothing but business for the 30-plus student squad under the tutelage of Columbia lab manager, Bob Stark as they begin preparations for the Saturday, January 5 kickoff to the season.
It’s then that 2TrainRobotics along with their competition will learn the parameters of what they will be building and tinkering with over the following six weeks.
Played out in an indoor arena about the size of a tennis court, the competitions usually entail skill trials for the robots, rather than having them go on a destructive rampage.
“It’s not like battle bots where the objective is to destroy the other team’s robot,” said Columbia engineering student and 2TrainRobotics mentor Noah Silverstein. “Although it’s definitely a contact sport,” the mentor added.
Last year’s major competition involved the robots stacking up cubes and other similar tasks.
Being that this year’s big event takes place at Columbia, 2TrainRobotics has somewhat of a home field advantage.
Right now in the ‘preseason,’ teammates are practicing on their 120 pound, 10-foot tall extending bot, Zoidberg, named for the eccentric ‘Futurama’ character.
With a top speed of 15 feet per second, the bot runs on two stick controls like that of a dated military tank in addition to a modified Xbox controller that handles Zoidberg’s abilities.
While most of those abilities come from its student-made artificial intelligence that gives it the ability to pick up objects independently, the Xbox controller can extend and contract the bot’s extensive neck.
It also has it’s own Wi-Fi network and series of micro-cameras.
While all of that is comprehensive enough, building and running the robot is the easiest part of being on the team, according to Silverstein.
“Students have to market the robot, budget for what it will cost, promote it through social media, organize community events, recruit sponsors and new teammates, meet quotas in addition to so much more,” Silverstein said. “It’s really like running a business and the product, in this case the robot, is only one of many components,” he added.
At one of those community events Jarrell Dukes from Co-op City, who has a special interest in propulsion engineering and coding, joined the team.
He’s one of many new recruits from other schools around the Bronx and the city, now that 2TrainRobotics has expanded to allow just about any city student with an interest in robotics.
2TrainRobotics members have a 100% high school graduation rate. Many return as mentors to advise the future teams.
The team is now designing another robot for this upcoming season, which is scheduled to be showcased before a Bronx Bombers game.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Principals Learn LEGO Robotics to Improve Student STEM Learning!

Clay County principals learn robotics to better teach students

FLEMING ISLAND — With assorted brightly colored LEGO blocks along with wheels and tiny motors on tables in front of them, Clay County educators Tuesday confronted the question, “how many principals does it take to build a robotic toy car?”

And more importantly, “how will it help their students explore their creativity and critical thinking as well as master the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills necessary for the jobs of the future?”

The answer: all 42 Clay school district principals plus Superintendent Addison Davis and senior administrators.

They participated in an unique hands-on professional development training session focused on teaching STEM and STEAM — which is science, technology, engineering, art and math — to students at each grade level from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. They learned how to incorporate coding and robotics instruction into the school day while meeting state education standards.

The day-long training was in partnership with Northeast Florida Regional STEM2Hub and LEGO Education. A nonprofit, STEM2Hub offers educational programs and expertise in STEM to Clay and six neighboring counties in the region.

A team from LEGO Education, which provides training to teachers and educational specialists nationwide, led the program that featured the popular toy in lessons including basic coding, robotics and computational thinking.

Clay is among the first county, if not the first in Florida, to train all its school principals how to be actively engaged in creative, collaborative and critical thinking learning processes. It is important to embed those skills in the lessons taught to students in all subjects, Davis noted.

“This is about taking a vision and making it come to fruition,” Davis said of the initiative designed to benefit students.

“We continue to talk about how we build and prepare our students for the future and this is the way we do it. We are trying to create greater excitement for learning. We are trying to expose our students to more of a robotic, advanced technology perspective of learning. And this is the way we are going to prepare our students,” he said.

Robotics currently is a popular and innovative extracurricular activity in the district, and some schools also have a robotics class. But more needs to be done, Davis said.

“What we’re trying to do is teach the necessary skill sets internally within the classrooms so we have hands-on activities where kids are really highly engaged in the learning process and are able to become design thinkers, are able to problem solve and be prepared for jobs that don’t exist today but will in the future,” he said.

The principals will take what they learn back to their schools. They will pass it on to their teachers, who in turn will incorporate into their classroom lessons for all subjects.
The goal, Davis said, is to create a mentality where students are creative, collaborative, communicative and thinking critically.

“If we get them to do those four elements every single day in their classrooms they will be prepared to compete inside and outside of our classrooms,” Davis said.

Principal Treasure Pickett of Oakleaf High School and her colleagues Tuesday built their way up from basic LEGO robotics such as a mini-desk fan to more complex projects such as a small battery-operated car and the coding to operate it.

“It’s fun. We’re learning,” Pickett said with a smile as she carefully pieced together the foundation of a small robot. As a youngster, she played with Lincoln Logs because they didn’t have many LEGOs back then, she said.

Kids today, she said, are all about LEGOs. That will inspire and help them learn, Pickett said.
“I think it will bring out creativity and exposing students’ creativity,” said Pickett, who is the district’s 2018 Principal of the Year. Students also will benefit from learning the technology of robotics as well as translate the critical thinking skills required in trouble-shooting and problem solving to other subjects and aspects of their lives.

Kathleen Schofield, executive director of STEM2Hub, said similar training will be held in the other school district’s in organization’s service area. It is funded by a $975,000 state appropriation. State Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach was instrumental in getting the money for the program, she said.
“It’s to assure all children get access to the skills they will need for the jobs of tomorrow,” said Schofield, who previously served as a Clay school district administrator.

 Read the full article at its source:

Click on book cover for information

Click on book cover for information
Getting Started with LEGO Robotics. Anyone who works with kids can do LEGO Robotics, a rich and highly motivating platform for important STEM Learning! (surprisingly affordable, too) This books explains it all!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

At Morris High School in the South Bronx, it's cool to be on the robot squad!

From this morning's 'in box'... sent by Gary Israel, manager and all around "mother hen" of the Morris High School FIRST Robotics team 2TrainRobotics... 

Dear Friends of Morris H.S Robotics Team,

Leading up to next year's 20th anniversary of the Morris High School Robotics Team I will be sharing stories, articles, memories and most importantly photos of the team. As they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

The article below was written on the 10th anniversary of the robotics team. That year the team was a New York City FIRST 2009 Semifinalists, the Philadelphia FIRST 2009 Robotics Regional Winner and in April the team traveled to Atlanta to compete in our 7th consecutive FIRST Robotics Championship competition in Atlanta.


         In Pictures: Making A Robot

At Morris High School, a public school in the South Bronx, it's cool to be on the robot squad.

For 10 years, Morris High has fielded its 2TrainRobotics team to a robot competition called FIRST Robotics, a battle of minds and machines. The team has gotten financial support from alumni, friends and sponsors, including the New York Yankees.
Together, some dedicated high school students, Columbia University student mentors and passionate adults worked for six weeks to build a fully functional robot to compete in New York City's FIRST Regional Championships in early March. The Morris High's team placed in the top 12 out of 66 teams.

At Work on the Robot
© Stephen Aviano for Forbes

At Work on the Robot

Morris High School students Adam Cohen and Daniel Espinal work on the robot at Columbia University's engineering lab. In addition to building the robot, FIRST team members handle the fundraising, marketing and budgeting. While the students put in long hours in the lab after school, they must also maintain a C+ average to stay on the team.

Robot Brain

This year, National Instruments donated a $5,000 robot "brain" to each of the 1,700 FIRST Robotics teams across the U.S. The brain, dubbed CompactRIO, is a controller platform that includes programming software.

At the Lab
© Stephen Aviano for Forbes

At the Lab

At Columbia's engineering lab, Gabriel Ruiz (right) and Henry Jones (left) work on the part of the robot that pulls the moon rocks up to the top of frame and shoots them out. Gabriel Ruiz is a senior at Morris High School. Henry Jones, an environmental engineering student at Columbia University, spent four years on a FIRST robotics team in high school and now mentors the 2TrainRobotics team. "I'll probably be involved in FIRST in someway for the rest of my life," he says.

In the Basement
© Stephen Aviano for Forbes
The team practices in the basement of Columbia University's engineering school, often pulling all-nighters to finish the robot. The team will go to the national FIRST championship in Atlanta in April this year.

Tan Tan
Tan Tan
The final product: 2TrainRobotics's robot in its first competition at the N.Y. Regional Championship. Altogether, materials to build the 119-pound moon rock-throwing robot exceeded $7,000 (including the donated $5,000 "brain"). After much debate, the students named their robot Tan Tan, their term for "that's cool." Last year the team's robot was named Killer Cupcake.

Robot Driving

Robot Driving

The students compete days before the competition to decide who drives the robot at the competition. This year, Noah Kleinberg (right) was picked as the fastest driver. Gabriel Ruiz (left), who was injured at the competition, shows that robotics can be just as rough as high school sports like wrestling or basketball.

A Game Called Lunacy

A Game Called Lunacy

The object of the robots' challenge, called Lunacy, was to suck up as many "moon rocks" (made out of plastic strips) as possible and place them in the opposing team's goal--a trailer hitched to the back of the robot--in just over two minutes. Teams of three robots play against each other while students toss moon rocks onto the playing field from the sidelines.

Intelligence Gathering

Intelligence Gathering

While their robot Tan Tan wasn't competing, the students did some scouting, taking notes on their competition. FIRST reaches kids who might never have thought about how much fun or accessible science and technology can be, and it helps them think realistically about careers in science and technology.

A Victorious Round

A Victorious Round

Building robots can be life changing. Says team member Gabriel Ruiz: "FIRST made me feel better about myself. It gave me a chance to see myself in a different light. It helped me to realize I can actually be something. The team became more of a family than my family. I think everyone deserves to feel something like that."

Celebrity Support

Fred Armisen, a comedian from Saturday Night Live, showed up at the New York Regional Championship and let everyone know that he, too, is a nerd. "You are all geniuses! Give yourselves a huge cheer," shouted Armisen. Each year Kamen arranges celebrity endorsements, including in the past from Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and YouTube founder Chad Hurley.
2TrainRobotics Team

2TrainRobotics Team

2TrainRobotics has won a number of awards, including two NASA/FIRST Robotics grants, regional championships, engineering awards and industrial design awards, and have been honored at Yankee Stadium seven years in a row. Gary Israel, the team coordinator, says one of the highlights was when Morris High School alum and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell presented the team with a medal in 2002.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Awesome Animal Robots Kids Will Love and Learn From

From School Library Journal... 

"5 Awesome Animal Robots You Have to See to Believe

AI inspired by the animal kingdom.

Ever dreamed of having a robot as a pet? Dream even further! These animal-inspired robots are being used to perform extraordinary tasks, as roboticists turn to the natural world for inspiration. From Octobots to RoboBees, these five extraordinary creations from DK's book Robot will change the way you think about technology. Get ready for a high-tech safari!

Octobot | Biomimetic robot

Manufacturer: Harvard University
Origin: USA
Developed: 2016
Size: 2.5 inches long
An octopus has no skeleton, and, similarly, there is no tough technology in Octobot’s tiny tentacles. Octobot is the world’s first completely soft, autonomous robot. Forget batteries, microchips, and computer control. Instead, this bot is 3D printed using soft silicone, and powered by a chemical reaction. It took a team from Harvard University more than 300 attempts to successfully create Octobot, using a fluid-filled circuit flowing through its silicone body. In future, similar soft bots could be used for sea rescue and military surveillance, as they can fit into narrow spaces and mold into their environment.

BionicKangaroo | Biomimetic robot

Manufacturer: Festo
Origin: Germany
Height: 3.3 feet
Everyone’s favorite Australian animal has taken a technological twist in the form of the BionicKangaroo. This big bouncer can jump like a real kangaroo, reaching 6 inches high over a distance of 32 inches. The German manufacturers studied the kangaroo’s unique motion for two years before perfecting this artificial adaptation. A series of motors, sensors, and energy-storing legs ensure the BionicKangaroo never tires.

RoboBees | Swarm robot

Manufacturer: Harvard University
Origin: USA
Developed: 2013
Height: 0.75 inches
Great things do come in very small packages. The RoboBees are tiny flying robots developed by engineers at Harvard University. Assembled by hand under a microscope, RoboBees are fabricated from single sheets of carbon fiber, which are assembled and glued. RoboBees made their first controlled flight in 2013. They can take off and make short flights, changing direction easily and even hovering in midair. Each RoboBee weighs as little as 0.003 ounces – it would take a dozen of these minuscule mini-bots to equal the weight of a jelly bean!

Eelume | Work robot

Manufacturer: Eelume AS
Origin: Norway
Developed: 2016
Weight: Up to 165lbs
Developed for underwater use, this self-propelled bot has serpent-like agility and the streamlined swimming skills of an eel. Its body is made of modules that can be swapped and adapted to the task at hand. As oil and gas industries look for new ways to manage their off-shore installations, Eelume is at the forefront of the field of inspection, maintenance, and repair. Equipped with cameras, sensors, and a range of tools, this aquatic shape-shifter can be straight as a torpedo for long-distance travel, but agile and versatile enough to explore the places no diver or vessel can reach.

eMotion Butterflies | Swarm robot

Manufacturer: Festo
­Origin: Germany
Beautiful robotic butterflies, with wingspans of 1.5 feet, all flutter close to each other in a tight space. How do they do this without colliding? The secret is in how they are controlled from afar, using infrared cameras linked to a powerful central computer. The butterflies themselves are amazing feats of engineering, cramming in a microprocessor, sensors, and twin motors that beat their wings. Powerful batteries may allow this sort of technology to lead to flying robot flocks or swarms that can monitor remote pipelines and structures.

Monday, October 8, 2018

BRONX Team - 2Train Robotics Team #395 (Morris/CSS) Begins 20th Season in FIRST Robotics

Sent to me this morning by my friend Gary Israel...
Dear Friends of 2Train,

As many of you know, in addition to building robots and competing in robotics competitions in NYC and around the country, over the last 19 years the 2Train does many community service projects. This weekend we kicked off our 20th season by participating in the Co-op City College, Career & Resource Fair at The College of New Rochelle, School of New Resources, Co-op City Campus in our home town, the BRONX. Co-op City is the largest residential development in the United States serving middle and upper middle income New Yorkers of diverse backgrounds. More than 50,000 people reside in Co-op City.

People attending the event were given information about the team and the FIRST Robotics program; children were able to drive the robot.

As we prepare to build our 20th, completely different designed robot in January and then six weeks later begin to compete against teams from around the country and the world I want to thank all the students, teachers, mentors and sponsors for their support as 2Train looks forward to the next 20 years.

For more information about the team and how you can participate in the upcoming 20th anniversary celebration please go to

Co-op City, Bronx
2Train Mentors and Students
Evelyn M. Turner, on the left is the Lead Organizer for the Co-op City College, Career & Resource Fair.
Arleen Hogan, in the middle is the Campus Director, The College of New Rochelle School of New Resources Co-op City Campus.
Bervin Harris, President and CEO, Renaissance Youth Center, a big supporter of 2Train with Reuben Bridges, an original member of the 1999 2Train team and mentor for the past 15 years.
2Train student conductors Moshab Raman and Shadi Yadollahi Khales
Team 395 provides students with opportunities to pursue their goals in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This is made possible by our dedicated mentors and amazing sponsors.
 For more information about getting on board the 2Train;