Today we have added an extra dimension to this site. The prior blog mentioned that after a few years of enjoying DC motors some people with a technical “bent” begin to feel a draw toward robotics. I went on to explain that robotics will draw mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and computer programmers together since it requires the skills of all three to bring to life a robot – whether for educational purposes, or a personal robot, or an industrial robot. As such, I have added something to the title of this website now calling it “Motors and robots are fun.”
I trust that you have enjoyed the content on building direct current (DC) motors and even the brushless DC (BLDC) motors on this site. All of the videos have provided actual, real-working motors that my children and me have built. The directions for building a basic DC motor on this site is free and can be downloaded for any boy scout, girl scout, or Science Fair participant.
Looking back over the past two years, I have noticed that robotics has crept into my writing so that is the reason why I have added it to the website. As a STEM-oriented dad, I have seen my own children move into careers where science, technology, engineering, and math are required and am glad to see them earn an above average salary. Two are in banking using spreadsheets and calculations, one is a materials engineer, and one is a mobile app developer. My only daughter is a dancer/tumbler/aerialist performer on a cruise ship and has nothing to do with STEM subjects (even though she was admitted to a major university as an engineering student!)
So, today marks a change of sorts. Hopefully, I’ll have additional content that you will like. If it piques your interest, you may invest in some of the robots that I plan on mentioning and videoing for you on this site. For instance, one of the more interesting robots is the Sphero 2.0 robot. There are now four versions rolling around homes, playgrounds, or obstacle courses today. There is the first Sphero 1.0, followed obviously by Sphero 2.0, then Sphero SPRK, and the latest which I observed a few weeks ago called the BB-8™ App-Enabled Droid™.
On the left is the BB-8 App-Enabled Droid made by Orbotix who has also made the other versions of the Sphero robot. Also, Orbotix makes a robot called Ollie which is a cylindrical robot that moves similarly to Sphero although Sphero is a sphere not a cylinder.
Orbotix’s definition of Sphero is that it is a “ball gaming system.” It’s a white-shelled waterproof ball that encases a robot that can be controlled by iOS or Android phones or tablets.
Sphero can be controlled using a number of free apps (I use the Sphero app and the Sphero Companion app from the Google Play store). It can glow more than 16 million colors and is recharged via an induction charger (the same technology used to power an electric toothbrush). Three hours of charging will give an hour’s worth of play.
You can control the ball up to 15 feet away and even use the ball’s in-built accelerometer to control action on-screen in the fun Exile game. Other apps include Draw & Drive, where the Sphero will follow the direction of whatever you etch on-screen; and Golf where your phone becomes a virtual club.
The BB-8 is a unlike any other robot. It has an adaptive personality that changes as you play. Based on your interactions, BB-8 will show a range of expressions and even perk up when you give voice commands. The person controlling BB-8 set it to patrol and we watched it explore autonomously around the room. He also said that he could create and view his own holographic recordings.
- An easy to use robotic ball that is lots of fun. The SPRK (Schools/Parents/Robots/Kids) version adds a level of complexity. It is a see-through robot to give kids an inside look at how it works.
- A range of apps boost interest in the robot and helps students see the relationship between
- The cost of $125 may be too costly for some. I got mine from eBay using the “Buy it Now” for $80.
Our view: Sphero is a remote-controlled robot that is a fine first robot for both children and adults alike. It will provide hours of fun, both on land and in the water.
Quote for the Day: “The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; the optimist, the opportunity in every difficulty.” — L. P. Jacks
The National Science Board (NSB) released a new report that shows that innovation has made it quite difficult to differentiate between STEM workers and non-STEM workers.
The chairman of the NSB, Dan Arvizu, reported, “We’re observing that this term we use, ‘STEM workforce,’ is really a nebulous term. As science and technology have…permeated all corners of our economy, the distinctions between STEM and non-STEM jobs in the workplace are beginning to blur.”
A STEM index sponsored by U.S. News/Raytheon showed that U.S. STEM employment increased by 30 percent from 2000 to 2013. Interestingly enough, these numbers “do not include jobs in non-traditional STEM fields that still require STEM skills.”
Some think that instead of asking how many STEM workers do we need, that we ought to be asking “what knowledge and skills do all of our workers need now and in the future?”
If academia starts to use this question as the basis for planning courses preparing students for future positions, it will greatly expand its offerings. Today there is such an overlap in technical requirements in most jobs that it is difficult to know what background the employee has pursued in order to achieve competence.
Quote for the Day: “There is always a moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” — Graham Green, The Power and the Glory
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
This 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
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
This blog, Motors Are Fun, came about through one of my mentors, Dan Miller. Dan Miller is a prolific author, speaker, and coach. He has written New York Times best-selling masterpieces like 48Days to the Work You Love, No More Mondays, and Wisdom Meets Passion (which he co-authored with his son, Jared Angaza). I’ve listened to his podcasts since 2010 where he answered questions about getting a job you really enjoy, entrepreneurship, starting a business, or the myriad of questions regarding how work fits into life.
Dan Miller and Mike at Dan’s converted barn called ‘The Sanctuary’
After finally writing my goals for 2013, I decided it was time to do something about creating a Web site and looked introspectively about areas in my past that I enjoyed so much that time passed quickly. Well, as mentioned in my “About Us” video, I’ve been fascinated by what magnetism can do. I’ve always been a “maker” long before the term became popular — building tree houses, wooden go-carts, Estes rockets, model airplanes, birdhouses, all types of model kits, mazes, and, of course, DC and BLDC motors. It seemed natural to combine my love of building small electric motors with my love of teaching. Over the past 15 months I’ve noticed my writing has moved from speaking to middle-school aged students about motors, robots, and STEM to you parents and interested parties regarding these topics. It has been a great outlet and very enjoyable and I trust you have learned something new along the way.
Quote for the Day: “An average person with average talents and ambition and average education, can outstrip the most brilliant genius in our society, if that person has clearly focused goals.” — Brian Tracy
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
Our family has been involved with 4-H for over 16 years. It is the largest youth development program in the U.S. and from what I understand it reaches more than seven million youth. Normally when you hear of 4-H you think of agriculture, horticulture, livestock, home economics and various clubs like the Art Club, Shooting Club, Horse and Pony Club, Four Paws Club and other interesting clubs.
Recently, our local County Agent for 4-H Youth Development went out on a limb and worked with several volunteers to start a 4-H Robotics Club. In the past, our County Agent had branched out with the 4-H National Youth Science Day that taught youth about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) projects. This latest undertaking fit in well with the STEM initiatives and in the end there were five teams that built and programmed Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 robots. We spent four days getting ready for the Regional competition that were held in Clark County, Kentucky.
The anticipation of the event was like the Carly Simon song “Anticipation” that was used in a Heinz ketchup commercial. After building and programming the robots the students were ready to compete. Below are a few pictures from the competition. First there was a Sumo competition followed by lunch and then a Canyon rescue competition.
The Sumo competition was similar to the Sumo wrestlers where each robot tries to move the other robot out of a four-foot diameter ring. The first one to move the other robot out of the ring wins that match. Best two out of three wins the match and advances to the next round. All of the volunteers had hoped that one of our teams could make it to the Elite Eight. We use that term in Kentucky because each year the University of Kentucky Wildcat basketball teams shoot for the Elite Eight or Final Four. Well, in our very first competition, two of our five teams came in number 2 and number three out of 16 teams. We were proud of their finish and dedication.
After the Sumo challenge, each of the 16 teams had to go back and build and program their bots to move through a “canyon.” The idea was that someone was hurt in a canyon and the robot had to bring them out. In effect, it was a maze. The 4-H students were very intense and all of the building and programming and testing taxed their brains.
The day was long and some students became tired since they had to arrive at 7:30am. However, the idea of working together as a team and having the thrill of competing made the day worthwhile. Below is a short video that shows what goes on in a Sumo competition. The excitement and noise were astounding.
This post provides several thoughts: 4-H is staying current with the latest trend toward STEM, educational robotics are enjoyed by students and adults alike, and finally, if you have not joined a robotics club, consider 4-H. You’ll be glad you did.
Finally, this post congratulates our County Agent for her involvement in reaching out to the youth in the county that need a club like this and helps the country by developing a love of STEM.
Quote for the Day: “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” — Theodore Roosevelt