Last year I was very fortunate to get the chance to work with the M.E. Program in the Hunter region of New South Wales. With the need for more Engineering and Technically trained employees in the Hunter region, a group of industry partners got together to form the ME program and look at ways of supporting schools and helping students experience and explore the career opportunities that are possible in the manufacturing industry.
Amongst other activities, they put together a 'Living Toolbox' of lessons and resources that highlight various aspects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. I was asked to help out with a number of Robotics focussed videos that touched on each of these areas.
I did videos for the following topics
- Simple Angles
- Calculating speed
- Regular polygons
- How ultrasonic sensors work
- How Light sensors work
You can see the Living Toolbox and all its fantastic lessons here (not just robotics)-
This is just Video #1, click here if you want the whole playlist - ME Robotics Playlist
My article has finally been published in BrickJournal! :)
It's a very basic introduction to EV3 programming, looking at just making the robot drive forward. Big thanks to Joe Meno who took my RileyRover design and modified it to suit the Retail version (31313) EV3 kit.
It is Issue 28: April 2014 and I'm told you can find it in select LEGO stores as well as online.
Let me know if you spot a copy in the wild!
I was recently extremely fortunate to be a guest of VEX Robotics at their annual World Robotics Championships in Anaheim, California. It's a educational robotics competition along the lines of RoboCup Junior or the FIRST challenges, but with the VEX robots as the main platform.
VEX have recently brought out the VEX-IQ range of robots, the little brother of their standard VEX range and were keen to see what some of the "Super Users" (The nickname given to those of us who have a lot of experience with these types of products) could show off to the competitors.
Now while there were some amazing creations there, my interest has always been Classroom applications, and while a Connect4 playing robot, or one the can solve a Rubics Cube are certainly inspirational, the vast majority of classes would ever get the opportunity to build those. I came up with an extremely quick build (around 10 minutes) that I think would be great in the classroom, allowing teachers to get to the programming aspects a lot faster.
The VEX-IQ is a great product and I can see a lot of potential with it, especially in a classroom environment. I love the fact that it has 12 input / output ports, meaning some very fun builds are possible, without having to worry about getting all the sensors and motors connected. The price is also extremely competitive, and you could get a few of these for a similar cost to some of the other products out there. It does however need a lot more work on the software. This is readily recognised by the VEX team and it was very refreshing to see our feedback being taken on board.
You can find more specs and information about the VEX-IQ here - http://www.vexrobotics.com/vexiq/
At the booth I had all the parts as well as the instructions for the robot, and was challenging kids (and parents / mentors) to build as fast as possible and then race around a figure-8 course. We recorded the times and the thing that made me the happiest, were the people that were coming back time and time again to better their score. Over the course of a day and a half we had a few dozen people have a go at the challenge. In the end my record got bumped by an extremely keen and persistent young many, eventually doing the whole build and race around the markers in a little over 3 minutes.
Some of the creations from the other Super Users
Somehow I managed to miss getting photos of Steve H's Connect4 robot and Danny's Rubics Cube solver!
This robot has been designed for the VEX-IQ robotics kit. It can be made from parts from a single VEX-IQ Starter Kit (http://www.vexrobotics.com/vexiq/products/starter-kit-with-sensors.html)
This design is quick and very simple, it should take no more than 10 minutes depending on your students. It is not the most robust design, but is intended to be built quickly by students, allowing them to spend more time with the programming aspect of STEM education. There are plenty of connection points to add sensors and make the robot more sturdy, and I highly encourage you to get your students to come up with their own modifications.
For a faster build, have one student do the left motor, one do the right motor and one do the castor. Then bring them all together at the end.
If you do use this in class, please let me know, I love to see how far and wide my designs go :)
I was finding that the axels were coming out of the wheels, so made a slight modification. A few more pieces to hold the wheels on :)
I was extremely fortunate to be sent a kit of the new VEX-IQ robot from VEX robotics (http://www.vexrobotics.com/vexiq)
As always, the first thing I do with these kits is to figure out the absolute bare minimum required to get a robot moving. Don't get me wrong, the supplied instructions for their Clawbot is nice, but at a build time of over an hour, I really feel this stretches the useful time in a classroom. I much prefer to see a simple build, quick to put together which then allows kids to get onto the programming aspects much quicker.
So here is my design. I shall call it....... miniVEX! It takes me around 5 minutes to put together so hopefully it won't take up too much class time.
I've done up some full building instructions and will post them shortly.
The software used to control the VEXIQ is a little different to what I'm used to, but I'm getting my head around it. I'll do a post of that shortly.
Thanks to the great help from Nigel Ward (http://www.mind-storms.com/) we now have a French Translation of the popular "Classroom Activities for the Busy Teacher: EV3". It is available as an eBook for the moment and if you know of any Teachers in French speaking countries, please let them know!
At a recent conference I ran an advanced EV3 workshop where one activity concentrated specifically on the use of arrays. Arrays are a new edition the MINDSTORMS software that the previous NXT-G software didn't support (at least not cleanly). Arrays allow us to store multiple bits of data all in the one 'thing', which makes it easier to access. If you think of Variables as being a suitcase where you can read and write some information, then Arrays can be thought of as a suitcase that has lots of smaller folders inside. Each folder can store an individual piece of information and you can access that information but selecting suitcase, and then the folder inside.
While you can do the same thing with lots and lots of Variables, Arrays make it far cleaner.
Create a game of Memory. The EV3 will call out 4 random colours. You then have to show the Colour Sensor the colours in the right order. Get it right and you score a point, get it wrong and you get a disappointing buzz.
The whole project can be broken down into 2 distinct stages 1. Create and say the sequence of random colours 2. Check if the colours shown to the colour sensor match the sequence.
Create the Sequence array
To start, we initialise an array and call it 'colours'. As we are going to use the 'Append' function, we don't need to say how big the array will be to start with.
We then generate a random number between 1-4 (I'm only using 4 colours at the moment). This random number is appended to the Array. As there is nothing yet in our array, this means it will be put in at array index 1. (NB. Arrays in EV3-G are numbered from 1, which is different other programming languages with often begin numbering at 0. There were long and intense debates around the reasoning for this which I won't get into!).
If the number is a 1, the EV3 will say 'Black'. A 2 will give 'Blue', 3 will give 'Green' and 4 gives 'Yellow'.
Rinse and repeat 4 times (don't want to make the sequence too long). Each time it repeats, the 'append' function adds a new random number to the end of the array.
Checking the colours
Once the EV3 has said its sequence of colours, it moves into checking mode.
Firstly it waits for a colour to be detected. Any colour will do, just so long as it is not 'no colour'. It then waits for half a second to make sure the colour paddle has settled into place. This is needed to make sure the colour sensor doesn't pick up a bunch of random colours as the paddle comes down over the top.
We then read the actual colour so we can check it against our sequence. After that we need to check against our array. We use the loop counter plug which keeps track of how many times we've been through the loop. The first time through the loop, the loop counter is '1', which means when we use the 'Read at Index' block, it will tell us what number is in the 1st position of our array.
We send this number from the array along with the colour measured from the Colour Sensor block (which will be in the form of a number) through to a 'Compare Block' which will give us either a TRUE (colours match) or FALSE (colours don't match).
A Logic Switch uses this information to play a High note if it is TRUE and a low note if it is FALSE. Repeat 4 times to match the length of the sequence.
This is the basics behind the game. In the video I added a score using a variable that incremented. I also used the Medium motor to turn a simple dial to indicate the score going up. I'll leave that up to you to figure out :)
If you make some cool modification, please let me know!
I was very honoured to be invited to give the opening keynote at the 2nd Arab Conference on Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, held in Amman, Jordan on December 14-16th.
My keynote was titled "Robotics Today and How we are preparing Students for a Robot Filled Future" and I touched on topics such as the current state of robotics, changes in Robotics Education around the world and how Australia is currently approaching a new 'Technologies' curriculum. Critical Thinking and its interrelation with all curriculum areas was also discussed.
The talk was well received and I had plenty of great conversations with the participants throughout the three days. In addition to my Keynote, I also ran three EV3 workshops for the delegates. We did two identical workshops on the basics of EV3 and how it differs from the NXT and one advanced workshop where we dived into more of the complexities of the software. This advanced workshop concentrated on the new Array feature of the software and I'll do a separate post on that activity shortly.
The only real downside to the whole trip was the sudden and unexpected snowstorm. Apparently it was the most snow they have experienced in the region in memory and quite a few people (including the Prince of Jordan) were unable to make it on the first day.
A special note of thanks to Sami Alzein who looked after me and took me around on the last day once the snow had melted enough for traffic to get through!
I've finally taken the plunge and am offering all my books in downloadable pdf format. (Still have physical copies if you're so inclined)
Classroom Activity books (EV3, NXT and Datalogging) are US$20 and the rest (WeDo, Making Music and PSP controller workbook) are US$10.
Find them all here! - www.damienkee.com/books