Category: engineering

Will Robotics Impact Education?

Anyone with a passing interest in smartphones, cars, and even toy robots can see that technology continues to impress. Some smartphones use Siri which learns from its errors and, in effect, has become what is known as “weak AI” (artificial intelligence). Newer cars have the ability to receive basic commands from its driver for temperature and music control and implement those commands to the joy of its driver and passengers. Toy robots continue to evolve and what was a toy a few years ago has now become an educational robot with sensors, cameras, and new types of mobility that has made middle and high school robot tournaments very entertaining.

It seems that over the next five years or so, STEM education will have an even greater impact on creativity and innovation. As STEM courses become part of the school’s core curriculum, robotics will serve as the central focus. Most parents support this notion and the two fields they want most for their children to pursue are science and engineering.

Benefits of Programming

Oxford University believes that at least 46 percent of U.S. jobs could become automated in the next 20 years. As such, it is important to learn the programming skills to understand what drives the mechanisms. In order to make the robot move, make adjustments, and learn, student innovators need to learn to program using Scratch, Python, C, or ROS (Robot Operating System) or other open-source software programs. On the lighter side, coding, programming, and robotics integrates the basic knowledge from three main STEM subjects – mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer programming. Not only is there cross-pollination under the auspices of play, robotics helps develop teamwork, coordination, and friendly competition. As mentioned previously, robots are increasingly being used as edutainment for students – having fun while learning.

The Future of Robotics

As STEM education seeks to keep up with the fast pace of technology, robotics will become the next computer industry. With an eye toward trends, robotics and their uses will become standardized since robots will replace some boring and dangerous jobs in manufacturing, in security, and possibly household chores. STEM education will focus around robotics  and will function somewhat similar to the computer technology in the ’80s. As the fascination with computer hardware gave way to the software explosion, so will robotics hardware give way to programming and coding.

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Another engineering major is becoming popular

Direct current (DC) motors appeal to mechanical engineers and electrical engineers because of the design properties involved in manufacturing and applying these motors in real world problems. After a few years of enjoying DC motors some people with a technical “bent” begin to feel a draw toward robotics. Robotics appeals to mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and computer programmers. Each of these career options are involved in the design and manufacturing of a robot that can do a specific task. Some robots can do more than one task which might require a degree in robotics engineering. Robotics engineering is an up-and-coming degree that has a real future. Currently, there are seven leading schools that have robotics engineering degrees. These universities appear to be on the cutting edge and offer bachelors, masters, or PhD degrees. There are about 25 other schools in the U.S. that offer robotics education that are competing for some analytical and imaginative students as well.

  • Carnegie-Mellon University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • University of Georgia
  • University of Southern California
  • Columbia University
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Of course, interest in robotics drives demand. And interest comes from students and parents that have looked at jobs as Robotics Engineers. Here are a few facts:

  • Employment growth is expected to be 7-13 percent through 2018
  • It is projected that over 50,000 jobs are to be available from 2008 to 2018
  • Robotics will become the next computer industry
  • Robots will begin to replace processes such as manufacturing, security, and even household chores
  • The annual median wage is $90,300 for a Robotics Engineer

Sources:  Bls.gov and Sokanu.com

Finally, a typical day for a Robotics Engineer would include:

  • Performing research of robotic systems
  • Designing, building, configuring, and testing robots
  • Designing software programs and systems
  • Reviewing cost estimates and return on investment
  • Designing automated robots and automated robotic systems

If these topics interest you while in middle school or high school it would be good if you were able to get involved in a robotics club of some sort. One of the most popular today is VEX robotics which each year comes out with different competitions that are played on a 12 foot by 12 foot field for VEX middle school or high school challenges.

Each competition includes an alliance of some sort to encourage teamwork, sensors, programming, and an autonomous mode. The competitions are held at various schools and eventually VEX holds a Vex Worlds Tournament. Last year it was held in Louisville, KY and prior to that it was held in Anaheim, CA. Some students (and parents) make a vacation out of competition and since it is a world tournament meet new friends. Indeed, the world is “flat” these days.

Here’s the video posted by VEX for its Worlds Tournament. Enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bQWFW33yAU

 

Quote for the Day: “There are two types of people – anchors and motors.  You want to lose the anchors and get with the motors because the motors are going somewhere and they’re having fun.  The anchors will just drag you down.” — Wyland, marine artist

 

 

A real “treat” for the end of the school year!

This past week Mr. Scott Bailey invited me to speak to three of his engineering classes at Scott County 9th Grade school. I’ve known Mr. Bailey for over four years and he is the finest engineer-turned-teacher I know. He is knowledgeable, supportive and helpful to his students, volunteers for multiple events, and really wants to see his students reach success in school and later in life. He has become a very good friend. Since we met two days before school was out for the year this was a treat for his classes and some brainy students were able to walk away with a literal “treat” of a bag of yogurt-covered pretzels or a Hershey candy bar.

 

Speaking about DC motors and robots

Speaking about DC motors and robots

 

Most of you know I love to speak about small DC motors. Of course, this was the start of my discussion with the students, but then we branched into how motors and servos are used for a few robots, and we wrapped up our time together in each class by encouraging the students to consider a STEM career. I found a few statistics from an article written by Steve Crowe, managing editor of Robotics Business Review, regarding high school seniors and STEM careers:

  • Only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career
  • Only 30 percent of high school seniors who took the ACT test were cleared for college level sciences
  • Average income for a STEM career:  $77,880/year

These facts were a wake-up call to most students, but three years until they would become a senior seemed like eternity right now.

 

Showing the MIP (Mobile Inverted Pendulum) robot

Showing the MIP (Mobile Inverted Pendulum) robot

This year Mr. Bailey had some bright students as evidenced by some excellent end-of-course assessment scores. Most of his students are planning on pursuing engineering – some are interested in architectural engineering, chemical, aeronautical, electrical, mechanical and civil engineering. I love interacting with the students and get a good sense of what inspires them and what turns them off. One of the things that got them going was a few riddles. These were riddles that required them to ‘think outside the box.’ These were riddles I had learned when we studied lateral thinking in college. I tried to explain that some people have a tendency to think this way and those that didn’t today can learn to do so in the future. This ability to think on a deeper plane helps tremendously with problem solving – to look at a problem from different perspectives. It’s all a part of the scientific method.

 

The students had good questions and were attentive

The students had good questions and were attentive

It was a joy speaking to these three classes of 9th graders. Despite it being near the end of the school year they were attentive and asked good questions. In the last class, the students didn’t want the class to end. Not only did this demonstrate their interest in considering a STEM career, it gave me hope this millennial generation will be well prepared to carry on and improve on the technical careers that are available today and those careers that have not even been named yet.

 

Quote for the Day:  “The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it. But that it is too low… and we reach it.” — Michelangelo, 1475-1564

Motors Are Fun Website featured on EEWeb.com!

The Electrical Engineering Community (EEWeb.com) somehow found this website and requested to feature Motors Are Fun on its site! What an honor it is to be highlighted by such a successful and auspicious site as EEWeb.

The EEWeb site has several features that could become your stopping point on the way to engineering or science projects. The first page pretty much has all of the topic areas covered: Product news and highlights, the Electronics Forum, Articles and Projects, a section for Featured Engineer, Application Design notes, the Site of the Day, and if you’re interested, a section on Job Listings.

Based on your knowledge of components, the site is a great resource for analog design, RF design, power, connectors, digital integrated circuits (ICs), and more. Each section has design news, design articles, application notes, and questions by members. I enjoyed the Companies link where EEWeb has about 29 Who’s Who of major electronics manufacturers and distributors – this is a great resource to get parts for the motors shown on Motors Are Fun website.

One of the highlights about EEWeb is at the top of the page to the right in the topic called Toolbox. Here you will find Printed Circuit Board (PCB) Tools, Passive Tools, RF Tools, Calculators, and Math help for Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Derivatives, and Integrals. Once again, EEWeb has brought together important concepts all in one spot.

I’m grateful to Algen Dela Cruz, an electrical engineer at EEWeb, who contacted me and has been active in keeping the process going. This will be a site I’ll seek out when looking for ideas and components for future DC motors. And I recommend that you would consider doing the same.

 

Quote of 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

 

Are women really leaving the tech industry?

A recent article written in Inc. by Jill Krasny asked “Why women are ditching the engineering industry in droves.” In the article, Jill mentioned a psychologist from the University of Wisconsin, Nadya Fouad, who stated less than 65 percent of women she surveyed were currently working in engineering. She went on to say there appeared to be three main reasons:

  • the ‘good old boys club’ was evident,
  • little room for advancement, and
  • no female role models.

Her take was not that women had to change, the work environment had to change. She also remarked that “more than any profession,” engineering had the highest turnover of all – even more than medicine and law.

As a counter to this article is an article from the U.S. News and World Report written by Allie Bidwell that there is “No ‘Leaky Pipeline’ for Women in STEM.” She approaches the subject first by stating that those women that get a bachelor’s degree in STEM subjects are less likely than men to get a PhD.

Quoted from the article, “But an analysis of 30-year trends in pSTEM fields – those in physical science, technology, engineering and mathematics – shows the gender gap in persistence rates actually has closed since the 1970s, when men were nearly two times as likely to later earn a relevant doctorate. By the 1990s, the gap had completely closed, the study found. Researchers David Miller of Northwestern and Jonathan Wai, a Duke University Talent Identification Program research scientist, chose to focus on pSTEM fields and exclude social sciences and life sciences.”

Miller proposed to re-frame the issue from just “plugging leaks” to one of getting more (women) students interested in the STEM fields in the first place.

As an observer of STEM careers, it is critically apparent that women need to have female role models. Those that have been through the studying, internships, and times of difficulty and have come out successful can greatly encourage young students. It is important to provide encouragement and advice, in some cases providing mentorship. In our area, Toyota Motor Manufacturing has a group of women who provide meetings, presentations, and tours of the Camry manufacturing facility for women that are considering pursuing STEM fields, particularly engineering.

Engineering is just one of the many STEM careers that allow women to use their math and science skills and creativity for the world. It would behoove parents that are interested in their daughter’s future (if they show promise in STEM subjects) to pursue finding out now about alternatives for summer or after school camps to help encourage them to persist through the difficulties in order to have a satisfying career.

 

Quote for the Day: “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” — Walt Disney

 

 

Are you looking for a Lego-oriented STEM program for your kids?

Last December we had the opportunity to visit the Lexington, KY “Bricks 4 Kidz” program run by Tracy Morris, Managing Director. Her tagline is, “Bricks 4 Kidz – we learn, we build, we play with Lego bricks.” The franchise captures the heart of young children who love to play with Lego blocks and build something really neat. The program includes various topics like “Air, Land, and Sea,” Little Builders “In the Jungle,” “Amazing Animals,” “Mining and Crafting,” and even building “Super Heroes.”

The students have fun using LEGO Bricks to learn team building, collaboration skills, and the principles of science, math and technology. Tracy offers after-school classes in public and private preschools, elementary and middle schools, as well as holiday and summer camps, in-school field trips, and birthday parties.

The program I attended was held at Newton’s Attic run by Bill and Dawn Cloyd. Bill was a physics teacher at Paul Lawrence Dunbar high school in Lexington, KY. His desire was to create projects that demonstrated the laws of physics that his students could learn and apply – that is why he started Newton’s Attic. It is the perfect place for Bricks 4 Kidz to be held since the younger students can see other STEM projects completed by older – middle and high school – students.

The Bricks 4 Kidz programs provide an extraordinary atmosphere for students to build unique creations, play games, and have loads of fun using Lego bricks.  The activities are designed to trigger young children’s lively imaginations and build their self-confidence.

Programs are built around the franchisor’s proprietary model plans, designed by engineers and architects, with interesting and exciting themes like the above and others such as space, construction, and amusement parks. The specially designed project kits and theme-based models provide the building blocks for the Bricks 4 Kidz approach to educational play. Tracy says that kids learn best through activities that engage their curiosity and creativity.

One of the best parts about viewing the class was to see the students engaged and asking inquisitive questions. Given the opportunity between attending a summer camp for fun or attending a summer camp for fun and learning, I’d recommend Bricks 4 Kidz.

 

Quote for the Day: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” – Steve Jobs

 

Flying Car!

One of my pastimes is aviation.  Planes, prop jets, jets, and rockets will easily get my attention. When we drive to church on Sunday or Wednesday we drive right past Bluegrass Airport. Sometimes we get stopped at the traffic light and see a plane drop down out of the sky to land or hear the roar of a jet engine as one takes off for a faraway destination. When my children were younger we used to drive to Bluegrass Airport and watch the planes land and take off. Ever since 911, there have been some restrictions which prevent us from doing that any longer.

So, when I was checking out Time Warner Cable’s website for STEM called connectamillionminds.com I came across the video below. It is a Flying Car that was built by a group of engineers. In the video you will meet Carl and Anna Deitrich, both engineers who enjoy building things. Although the engine for the flying car uses regular gas and is not a DC motor, can you think of other DC motors that work in this vehicle?  Sit back and enjoy the video and listen to what Carl says about what got him into building this neat vehicle.

Quote for the Day: “If there are things you don’t like in the world you grew up in, make your own life different.” — Dave Thomas

 

Christmas and New Year’s 2014

Today is New Year’s Day 2014! If you haven’t set some goals, this week would be the best time to do it. According to a recent poll in the local newspaper, only 35 percent have created New Year’s resolutions. It seems that just writing down goals (or resolutions) has a way of motivating you to pursue and achieve them.

Christmas was great this year. I measure my years in Christmases ever since I was in grade school. Absolutely love this time of year and hope you do too. There are a lot of misnomers about Jesus and his birth such as at the time of his birth the three wise men came with gifts for him. Needless to say, most are tales that sound nice, but aren’t historically true. For instance, Jesus was around two years old when the wise men came (and it is probable that more than three came to visit Him). So, the crib sets like to add the wise men so they can sell more figurines. Be as it may, for Christians it is the second most important remembrance day of they year – only Resurrection Day is more important.

A few weeks before Christmas arrived this year, Elkhorn Crossing School held its fourth annual VEX Robotics Tournament. The first year there were 14 teams present, the second had 24, the third had 40, and this year we had 56 teams involved. Below is a picture of the crowd. We had over 450 at the latest event and most everyone went home happy.

2013 1214 Vex crowd

Crowd at ECS VEX Robotics December 2014

 

Quote for the day:

“A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brains is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.”  — Louis Nizer