A new STEM program in eastern Kentucky

A few weeks ago we were asked to travel to eastern Kentucky and visit and a school that had recently started a STEM program. While there we learned most of the students were able to go to the University of Kentucky (UK)  to learn about the nine engineering disciplines that UK offered. Some students were ecstatic about what they learned from the professors and administrators. The second day some of the same UK representatives visited the school to discuss additional careers related to STEM. On the third day we had a session at the school about the various robots my sons and daughter have purchased or built (see below).



 Six robots, one brushed motor,  and one BLDC shown at eastern KY school 

The robots (L to R) shows the first robot we ever built at home – a wastebasket robot that was tethered to a manual control box. This used old TYCO motors installed with a circuit board inside the upside-down wastebasket. It ended up being one of the most popular robots that day.

The robot to the right of the wastebasket robot is called Sparki. It was programmed to avoid walls or other objects. Since it was slow, it did not garner a lot of attention. Someday the students will see how powerful the robot is. It uses an Arduino board as its brain and is very flexible to program.

Next up was a brushed motor; I used it to show the students that motors and/or servos form the basis of the infrastructure of a robot.

As can be seen above, next was an R2D2. This robot was bought pre-assembled and it was the hit of the day. It is completely autonomous and uses voice recognition to hear the command and normally follow through. On this day, R2D2 was quite obstinate – in a good way. We gave it some commands and even used the “Do you remember…?” (Chewbacca, CP3O, Darth Vader, etc.) question to get a response out of R2. Other interesting games we played was “Spin the Droid” and “Play Message.” The students were enthralled.

Next was a Lego Mindstorm NXT 2.0 basic robot. I had installed an app on my smartphone and was able to control it. With the third motor it could really peal out. One of the students wanted to write an app. Things are looking up.

Was able to take a laptop and the software to control the robotic arm. Originally the robot arm was tethered to a control box like the wastebasket robot and you had to control in manually, but a 3rd party company now sells a USB cable that ties to a laptop and you can use the computer to control the robot. This was a little advanced and the software was brand new so it was not as effective as I thought it would be.

The second motor was a brushless DC motor (BLDC) that uses a reed switch instead of a commutator and brush assembly. Explained the reed switch is pretty stable but not many of these are used in industry.

The last robot was a small robot from a company called Robotis. It is from a kit called OLLO and you can build approximately 12 different robots. You can also use their software to program them if you’d like. This robot was a line follower and it was speedy. The students liked how fast it ran around the black line.

Finally, if you look closely at the picture you will see a Rubik’s cube. As mentioned in a previous post I had a video of Mindcuber (another Lego Mindstorm NXT 2.0 robot) so the students could see how quickly it solve the Rubik’s cube shown. They all wanted one.


 Close up of most of the robots and motors

Overall, the students were really engaged. STEM is a new part of their curriculum and they are just getting started. After 1-1/2 hours and many questions, it was time to return to central Kentucky. It amazes me each time I do a STEM session to see how advanced these students are. Some really want to get down to the nitty gritty. I imagine if we had the time, we would have been there playing with the robots for another three hours or so.

Quote for the Day:  ”The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can’t find them, make them.” — George Bernard Shaw




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