Category: STEM

My Family Knows Their Dad

Can you believe it has been seven months since Christmas 2015? When I thought about it this past week, I was…well, shocked. Where has 2016 gone? The reason for considering the time since last Christmas is this article on Robotis Darwin Mini Robot. Robotis is a company that was founded in 1999 and is located in Seoul, South Korea. The name Robotis was derived from the question, “What is a robot?” To which the CEO and marketing team said a “Robot is…” and thus the company name was born as Robotis.

As a homeschooling dad I was introduced to Robotis in July 2011 through a subscription to the ROBOT Magazine. Robotis has a U.S. sales arm and through a series of events Robotis sent me two kits — one was an Ollo and the other was a Bioloid kit. They asked me to evaluate each kit and write a review. I have been very satisfied using their robot kits from ease of use and what a student could learn from assembling each kit. When I noticed they were bringing out a humanoid robot, I got excited. Most of the other humanoid robots cost thousands for dollars. I was mainly looking to find a robot that could walk, move its arms, do some tricks, can be controlled using a smartphone with Bluetooth, and had the ability to program. The Robotis Darwin Mini does all of this and more – the robot can be controlled with voice recognition, it has pre-programmed stunts and tricks, and has 16 degrees-of-freedom! Of all the robots I have built over the years, this one is my favorite.

My plan is to create a video of the finished product, use the smartphone app, and have the robot go through some of the exercises. Most probably that will be next time.


Quote for the Day:  “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” — Theodore Roosevelt




One Very Special Day at Scott County 9th Grade Classes

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).

Figure 1 - Boy's Life Robot

Figure 1Boy’s Life Robot

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.

February 1987 Boys Life Build a Robot

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.

Figure 2 - Wowwee MiP robot with Stunt Teetor Totter

Figure 2 – Wowwee MiP robot with Stunt Teeter Ramp


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.

Wink Robot

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).

Figure 3 - Completely Assembled Robotis Mini Darwin Robot

Figure 3 – Completely Assembled Robotis Mini Darwin Robot


Figure 4 - Mini Darwin robot Sitting Down

Figure 4 – Mini Darwin Robot Sitting Down


Figure 5 - Mini Darwin Robot Bowing Using Free App

Figure 5 – Mini Darwin Robot Greeting Each Student Using Free App


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:

  1. 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),
  2. Be open to change,
  3. Maintain a life-long love-of-learning,
  4. Be willing to help people solve their problems,
  5. Know you are on the earth for a God-given purpose,
  6. Think

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


Tomorrow is the Big Day!

Tomorrow our 4H Robotics club travels to a neighboring county to take part in our District’s Robotic Challenge. The Robotics challenge is comprised of four events all related to robots made by Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 or Lego Mindstorms EV3 robotics kits.

When we first arrive at the venue in a middle school in central Kentucky, we will be presented with challenges based on Civil War Treasure Hunts. The first three are called the Alleghan Hall Riches, the Harpe Brothers Treasure, and the Union Payroll Heist. These three events test the 4H member’s ability to program a wall follower robot that goes into a maze and returns, the second one is a line follower that has a lot of sharp turns, however, if you code your robot correctly, you can take short cuts and get more points. The final treasure event involves putting a robot in the middle of a sumo ring and have it programmed where it will seek and find ‘trees’ and move them off the sumo ring in the shortest amount of time.

The final event of the day is usually the most exciting. It is a sumobot challenge where each team (of 3 or 4 students) build and program their robot to seek and find the other competitor on a sumo ring and move them off the ring. This has always been one of the best attended events at the district championships. So, our robots are built and most have been programmed. Some of our members have not had the time to actually test out some of their bots thoroughly, but the enthusiasm will be sky high.

Check back next week to find out our results!


Quote of the Day:”“It may be that those who do most, dream most.”-Stephen Leavock

Worldwide Spend on Robotics Estimated to Reach $135B by 2019

A recent press release by International Data Corporation (IDC) has forecast that global spend on robotics and associated services are expected to increase from $71 billion (B) to over $135B in 2019, a 17 percent CAGR (compound annual growth rate). Robotics is one of Innovation Accelerators (coined by IDC) for the future. The other “accelerators”mentioned are: Augmented & Virtual Reality, Cognitive Systems, Internet of Things (IoT), Next Gen Security, and 3D Printing.


Sony's Aibo Dog Robot







Figure 1: Sony’s AIBO (Artificial Intelligence RoBOt) Dog

This forecast includes global spending on robotics systems that includes consumer, industrial, and service robots. Although it is expected to grow over $31B in 2019, the services-related spend that includes consulting, education, training, systems integration will grow over $32B becoming the largest and fastest-growing area of robotics spending even beyond the spend on servers/storage and software.

Once again, consulting agencies are forecasting strong growth in another STEM industry that will appeal to those that want to help better humanity.


Quote for the Day: “If you want to get to the top, you must first get off your bottom.” — Khan Wong


The Rise of Robots

One of the subjects I write about in my day job is technology, robotics, and STEM. This week is a portion of a recent blog that has received several interesting comments both positive and not so positive. It provides food for thought as technology (and robots) both become more and more embraced in our daily lives.

The use of robots in many industries has more than tripled in the last five years, raising both concerns and opportunities. Will robots threaten our jobs? Our very civilization? Or will they lead to improved quality of life?

Programming skills are the backbone for the robotics industry, and robots will give rise to many new jobs – provided that humans have the skills to do them. In the U.S., President Obama has supported investment in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) disciplines in order to encourage students to pursue high-tech degrees and training. Meanwhile, researchers throughout the U.K. are concerned about finding people with the right type of skills to take robots and AI (artificial intelligence) to the next level. Countries like the U.K. feel that China and the U.S. are moving forward while it is losing ground. It was just announced that the UK will have its first UK Robotics Week from June 25 to July 1, 2016. The event is aimed at celebrating the best of UK robotics and inspiring future innovators. It includes several challenges such as school Robot challenge, Surgical Robot challenge, Autonomous Driving, and UAV challenge.

Seeking to offer reassurance about the oncoming robot renaissance, John Macintyre, professor of Adaptive Technology and faculty dean at the University of Sunderland in England stated, “Not only is it extremely unlikely that machine intelligence will overtake that of humans, but the whole field is giving rise to exciting new skills and job opportunities as developments spill out of the labs and into the real world.” He contends that popular culture has portrayed robots and AI “as a threat” instead of showcasing the good robots can bring to the human experience.


Quote for the Day: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.” — Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect”

Motors Are Fun Website featured on!

The Electrical Engineering Community ( 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



Do you know what AMT stands for?

At our last Advisory Board meeting for Elkhorn Crossing School (ECS) in Scott County, KY one of the local engineers started speaking about an “AMT” program. Most of the other engineering Board members seemed to understand all about this AMT program. Since the conversation was going strong I didn’t want to interrupt and ask what does AMT stand for. The banter went on for about 15 minutes while the benefits and advantages of the program were being discussed. It sounded like a program that any aspiring STEM student that had a bent toward engineering would love.

One of the major discussion items concerned those students that had competed for and eventually got into the ECS pre-engineering curriculum. It was felt those students wanted to go on to college and receive their Bachelors of Science in some field of engineering and weren’t really interested in this AMT program. Others thought the AMT program was a very powerful program that met a need for a variety of students who wanted to be challenged on a daily basis to problem solve. In addition, the program met a need for local manufacturing companies to prepare students to understand design concepts and utilize higher order thinking skills in areas such as electronics, motor controls, sensors, and robotics. Plus it was set up to provide high-paying jobs. Along the way, the AMT program provided an Associates degree.

Now that I have given you several clues, do you know what AMT stands for?

Here’s a few more clues. Toyota Motor Manufacturing and Bluegrass Community and Technical College have partnered to provide the curriculum and hands-on training. All of the classes are held at the Toyota plant in Georgetown, KY. The plant is the size of 156 football fields. Just about all of the students that complete the AMT program end up with a very good-paying and enjoyable job. The starting salary if you graduate from this program approaches $65,000/year. With overtime, a person can come home with as much as $80,000. “That’s more than the median starting salary for graduates of the highest-earning bachelor’s degree programs in the United States, according to a recent report by PayScale.”

So, now you must know what the acronym, “AMT” stands for. It stands for Advanced Manufacturing Technician. The manufacturing industry competes for skilled workers just like the healthcare, financial, construction, and professional services industries. In the past, manufacturing plants were considered “hot and dirty” and conjured up images of steel or textiles mills. Today, in order to recruit employees, factories are generally clean, cool, and well lit – mainly because robots (and people) don’t work well in hot and dirty environments.

The AMT program is a program that gives students a definite direction in their lives. When students ask what they can get out of the program, student advisers can give them a specific answer and will not have to beat around the bush. With the price of college education continuing to increase year-by-year, one of the best programs I have seen that benefits the person and the company is this AMT program. Here is a link to a wonderful article on the AMT program in Kentucky.


Quote for the Day: “Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, “What’s in it for me?”   — Brian Tracy

What are your thoughts about STEM education in the United States?

My day job is working for a printing and imaging consultancy. You get to meet a lot of smart people that are passionate about an industry that has been very resilient. One such person is Ms. Kay Du Fernandez, Vice President, Strategic Business Development, Konica Minolta Business Solutions. The following is a blog she wrote concerning STEM Education and the Future of Innovation. For those that are concerned about educating our children in math and science, Fernandez makes a strong plea. Below is her entire blog. Enjoy her expert opinion from a key executive.

kfernandez headshotThis past summer, my 12-year-old daughter attended the Beuhler Challenger & Science Center Rocket Girls Science and Astronomy Camp. It was a week-long day camp focusing on encouraging girls to use science, math and technology to shape their futures. They built and launched rockets and learned about astronomy and women in aviation. Especially touching to me was the session about Sally Ride, the first female in space, who was also a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego, my alma mater. My daughter came home daily with new facts, excited to share her learnings, and reciting the names of the planets and facts about our solar system at every opportunity. Fueling passion for science, technology, engineering and math, often referred to as STEM, during childhood is extremely important to our nation’s students and our future as a global leader.

The U.S. became a global leader in the STEM fields thanks to the brilliance of our scientists, engineers and innovators. But today, that global leadership is threatened as too few U.S. students achieve in math and science or pursue STEM degrees and careers. This issue was brought to national attention in 2009 when President Obama made STEM education a priority with the Educate to Innovate campaign.

When addressing this problem, we must consider the demographics of our nation’s current and future workforce. The World Economic Forum ranks the United States 52nd in the quality of mathematics and science education, and 5th in overall global competitiveness In addition, the United States ranks 27th in developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science and engineering. Compare this to the growth in STEM jobs estimated by the U.S. Commerce Department to be three times greater than non-STEM jobs between 2000-2010. STEM jobs are expected to grow by 17 percent through 2018, as compared with 9.8 percent growth in other fields.

As a global technology organization, I was reminded of this while recently attending the Global Executive Program (GEP) at Konica Minolta, Inc. headquarters in Japan. Exposed to a number of advanced technologies and innovations, I truly believe our Advanced Layers division may change the shape of environmental sustainability. I saw newly developed mirrored solar panels that have a high durability against UV exposure up to 20 years and reflectance at an average solar-weighted specular reflectance of 94%. These solar panels generate 100 megawatts of electric power that could power 1,000 households and do not degenerate! In addition, with our historic leadership in camera film, our high-tech thin film and lamination technology has attracted Tesla Motors to install our window film on their line of electric cars. This film significantly reduces heat generation by 90% while allowing minimal interference for electromagnetic rays to ensure GPS system transparency.

Konica Minolta’s DNA is inherently about advancing technology. We consistently strive to make creating new value for society a priority, and new value cannot be created without innovation in the STEM fields. Technology is one of the most-pervasive forces in our society today, and not enough Twentysomethings leave college campuses to pursue STEM-related jobs. To compound this, STEM has created new industries with jobs like Application Developer, Data Scientist, Cloud Computing Services and Sustainability Expert, which are so new, they didn’t exist a decade ago. In 2011, Apple generated $15 billion in revenue alone from mobile applications. As demand for these new industries increases, it’s guaranteed our children will be competing for future jobs that don’t exist now, with skills that aren’t even present today. We must all encourage this next generation to dream and reach for the stars so they might one day become scientists, engineers and mathematicians. Our nation and future depend on the future global thinkers, scientists and problem solvers.


Quote for the Day: “Once stretched by a new idea, the mind never regains it’s original dimensions.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes

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