Last Friday turned out to be one special day. A good friend of mine asked me to speak to his students about STEM careers and other topics of interest. I took my buddy, Scott, up on his request for several reasons:
- He has a class of pre-engineering students (actually I found out that he has 5 classes that he teaches during the day),
- The students are well-mannered and show keen interest in their future,
- I enjoy speaking to students on a subject that is near and dear to my heart, and
- Scott has worked for IBM and Perot Systems as an electrical engineer and “retired” from both companies, then,
- He went back to get his Masters in Education – he is a real hero to me,
- Scott will be retiring from teaching after this year and I wanted him to have some of the day off.
After being introduced by Scott, I mentioned that when I first met Mr. B that I didn’t think he liked me at all, but over the years we have become best friends. One thing I have observed with students that Scott has taught over the years is after the students get in high school, they come back and let them know how much they appreciated how he taught the class and prepared them for high school. In some cases those that went on to college came back and let him know that his class is what helped them the most to do well in engineering. I encouraged these students to do the same.
After some other ‘ice breakers’ we were ready for what I loved to speak about – robots! This time I was going to show the students a timeline from when I first started teaching my sons and daughter about robots up to the present. The first robot we built was found in a Boy’s Life magazine. We called it our trash can robot (see Figure 1 for a rendition of what we were attempting to build).
The robot was a very basic wheeled robot that used two Tyco motors to drive the robot and a tethered cable tied to a control box with 4 DPDT (double pole, double throw) switches that allowed the motors for the bottom wheels to turn either direction and the motors that drove the arms to be able to turn each direction. If someone is interested in the instructions on how to build this basic yet fun tethered robot, here are the instructions.
Next, I moved on to the Lego Wall Follower Maze robot. It was one I had built to show our 4-H members a robot that could solve a maze using the ‘left hand rule.’ Lego always gets students involved especially when the robot wanders around the room looking for a wall to follow. When building a wall follower robot, most Lego enthusiasts say the ultrasonic sensor should be pointing directly in front of the robot or to the side of the robot. That never worked for me, so I built it so the ultrasonic sensor pointed forward in a 45 degree angle. The robot was the only bot that made it into and out of the maze.
Next on the agenda was a robot I took to last year’s session. It was a robot made by Wowwee called MiP (Mobile Inverted Pendulum). I wanted to get one of these robots because it is a self-balancing robot (a lot like a Segway) that has a gyroscope and an accelerometer built in. The robot was a hit because it kept making unusual sounds that kept the students attention. Here is a link to a nine minute YouTube review of the MiP robot MiP Robot
Additionally here’s a picture of the MiP robot (see Figure 2). On the left is a stunt teeter ramp where you can use the free MiP app and drive the bot up and over the ramp. You have to practice some before you can be a master roboticist. The robot is sitting on a tray accessory where you can have the MiP bot carry some light objects around. Overall, the bot has seven modes that you can make it do various tricks.
The fourth robot is my smallest robot. It is appropriately called a Wink robot that I bought from a Kickstarter project. The beauty of this robot is that you can program in Arduino, a C++ like language. The most difficult part of getting the robot to work was to download all of the files, the Arduino code, and special code the company, Plum Geek, provided. Once you get all of the files in the correct folders, it is easy to set up the correct serial port in order to create the Arduino “sketch” or programming palette.
The students really enjoyed how fast this little bot moved around the floor with the LEDs blinking different colors and also the sounds it made when it was near an obstacle. If you want something that gives you immediate feedback on your programming, the Wink is the robot for you. Below is the video that was used on the Kickstarter campaign.
My final robot is my pride and joy. My wife and children gave me this robot for Christmas 2015. It took me 103 days to start working on it due to a prior engagement working with our local 4-H Robotic Club (please see my prior posts). Once I got started on building this robot, I could not stop. It took me 3 hours to assemble the pins and another 10 hours assembling the 16 servo motors, the cables, the protective gear, and the excellent skeleton which made it look like a humanoid.
This robot is made by Robotis and it used the same pins as what was used in Ollo Explorer Kit I built a few years ago (see prior blog). After a few pins were inserted as directed in the instructions, my prior experience kicked in and it became easy to assemble. One thing you have to watch out for is ensuring you weave the cables through the proper channel. If you don’t and later when you turn it on, it might cause the wires to come loose or break.
Like the MiP robot, you can download a free app and immediately get the robot to move (if you have taken your time installing each servo correctly). I was so thrilled to see the robot come alive after I had recharged the two batteries. The same Eureka feeling I had when I built my DC motors and turned on the switch, came over me when this robot started to move.
It has several ways to get it to move and so far I have used the button mode and the voice recognition mode. I still have a lot to learn to be able to string together commands to make the robot start walking, stop and wave, do a pushup, stand up, sit down, and then do a handstand. It is really remarkable seeing it do all of these actions. It is a 16 degree-of-freedom (DOF) robot and all that is required is some imagination. Below are three pictures of the completed robot. Unfortunately, I did not have the stickers on the robot at the time of photography (see Figure 3, 4, and 5).
Overall, it was a wonderful day. It was a lot of fun and at least three students from each of four classes were able to win some king-sized chocolate candy for answering some lateral thinking problems. I left each class with six steps for each student to think about:
- Need to think about your future (by considering what you enjoyed doing when you were 12 because at age 12 what you did was what you enjoyed and you probably weren’t paid for it),
- Be open to change,
- Maintain a life-long love-of-learning,
- Be willing to help people solve their problems,
- Know you are on the earth for a God-given purpose,
It will be sad to see that Scott will retire in a few weeks, but knowing Scott, he’ll work around his home, completing honey-do lists, and then find a position that will fulfill his engineering love. He will be missed for sure.
Quote for the Day: “It just takes one idea to live like a king for the rest of your life.” — Ross Perot