Robots are a part of our every day lives whether we realise it or not, but very few people ever peek behind their metal exteriors to see what’s on the inside. During the first week of the spring hols, six lucky kids were able to look at what makes robots tick and create some of their very own. In class we used the Hummingbird Robotics Kit and recycled materials to create our robots.
The Hummingbird is my favourite robotics kit because users don’t just get to programme the robot, they also get to design the body entirely from scratch. They can use any material, be it recycled materials, Legos, or 3D printed parts. Hummingbird can be programmed with a wide variety of programming languages such as Scratch, Processing, and Python. It can also be combined with the MaKey MaKey and Raspberry Pi. We used the Visual Programmer in class so the kids didn’t have to worry about learning a whole new language as they were retraining their brains to think in a series of very specific instructions.
There is a great deal of planning that must go into designing a robot. You can’t just start making one, there are a lot of things to consider:
1. What will my robot look like?
2. What electronic components will my robot use?
3. Where will my electronic components go?
4. Are there any holes that I will need to create in order to place my electronic components?
When programming a robot you can’t just tell it to do something such as wave. Instead you must tell it to move the servo up 90 degrees, then you must add a second command (or in this case, expression) that tells your robot to lower it’s servo to 0 degrees. Then you must automate these commands and loop them together in a sequence so they continually play.
Students also learned there is a great deal of structural engineering that goes into robot design. They first discovered this as they were creating their drawing bots. Everyone’s bot moved a little bit differently, some spun around in fairly predictable circles, others moved around the table, and still others fell over after a few short doodles. Why was this happening?! We explored the difference between various structural elements, such as how many markers were used, where the batteries and motor were placed, and even the angle the markers were at.
Everyone learned a great deal over these past three days. We had a quick little quiz to see what we had learned before parents began arriving for our Bot Show and all the students passed with flying colours. They can now identify:
- A positive wire from a negative wire
- The difference between a motor and a servo
- Input, such as sound sensors and distance sensors
- Output, such as motors, LEDs, tri-coloured LEDs, and servos
They also understand the basics of creating a circuit and can harness electricity to power low-voltage electrical components. Be forewarned, these kids are lean, mean, making machines!