Thursday, December 23, 2010

Plan for future course

For the past two years, I have not included any bot-building in the Robotics for Grandparents course.  I have found a good starter robot design that may just do the trick.  I'll be using the SPOT design from James Floyd Kelly's excellent book, "Lego Mindstorms NXT-G Programming Guide".  The students (each team) will get a bag of parts and a photocopy of the build instructions for SPOT.  I have found that having the parts pre-picked saves a lot of time.

On the right you see a picture of SPOT from the book.  Between now and next September I will tinker with SPOT and see how he fits in with my class lab exercises.

Monday, December 13, 2010

EP Robotics Club

I went to the Encino Park Robotics Club meeting on Friday.  The kids were preparing for the January competition held by Texas Computer Education Association.  They have a difficult problem to solve, but I think they will do fine.  The field is set up with 5 cans of Big Red placed in randomly selected places on a circle, and the task is to push as many as possible to the wall.  This means the kids need to anticipate the locations of the cans and deal with the randomness somehow.  I was impressed by how well they demonstrated they could solve the problem and get a good score.

You can see a video of last year's contest at

The competition is in New Braunfels on January 8th.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Day 6 - finale

Today we had no lab, so I was traveling light.  I talked about real-world applications of robots, from military and police, to home, medical, and space.  I had intended to show some more video (we had some good short videos last week), but Mike Henry came with robots to show, so I passed out the "diplomas" and introduced him to the class.  Mike gave a nice presentation of the various school robotics programs in San Antonio, including First Robotics, First Tech, First Lego League, BEST, and GEAR.  He had some video to show how lively the competitions get.  As a small honorarium, I presented Mike with a Lego Designer Tool Set.

LEGO Designer Tool Set D5AD6338

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Robotics for Grandparents, Day 5

Tomorrow will be the last day with labs.  Our problem today is the most complex we've tried.  The robot will follow a tape line on the whiteboard until it encounters an object (a DWV drain cap).  It will then stop and drop a ball into the cup.  If there is time, I will show some videos of space and commercial robots.  Otherwise, I will save them for next week.

Next week's session will be on robotics in the real world, including space robots, manufacturing robots, medical robots, and robot actors.  An extra treat will be a talk by a robotics consultant to NEISD.

Robotics for Grandparents, Day 4

Today we tried out line following, with some different strategies for finding the edge (with just one light sensor).  I asked the students to experiment with different colors and widths of lines on the whiteboard.  The results were interesting, as usual.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Robotics for Grandparents, Day 3

On Monday, I introduced the class to some new blocks: Loop, Switch, and Random, and to the idea of data wires to connect blocks.  The problem was to build a bumper car that would stop, back up, and turn when it encounters an obstacle.  Their first strategy was to move forward until it touched an obstacle, then stop, back up, turn left, then move forward again.  The second strategy was to use the Random block to decide whether the turn should be left or right.

EP Robotics Club

On Friday, November 5, the Encino Park Robot Engineers met for a session of learning, building, programming, and testing.  They are learning how to program the robot to follow a course by dead reckoning, with no sensor input.  I told the teachers (Craig, Herrera, Nelson) of my plan to donate a LEGO Education Resource Set to the Robotics Club.

I believe that the Education Resource Set will help to solve the problem of expensive back-filling of the club's Mindstorms kits.  One Resource Set contains 671 parts, in a good mix to use as replacements.  My estimate is that one Resource Set per year would be enough to backfill a club's Mindstorms kits.  At $80 per Set, that's an easy tradeoff to make.  I have asked the teachers at Encino Park to evaluate the Set and let me know how well it does the replacement function.  Mr. Baldoni at NEISD is aware of this possible solution and will be monitoring it.

Robotics for Grandparents, Day 2

Day 2 went without a hitch.  Students wrote a simple NXT-G program to move the bot forward about a foot, turn around, and move back.  They learned how to control the distance and the angle of turn.  They also learned how to use the built-in "View" program to examine the output of sensors.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Robotics for Grandparents 2010, Day 1

We had a full class today - 8 people, which is just about right for the amount of equipment we have: 2 Mindstorms kits and 2 laptops.  Today's class covered a brief introduction to robotics and the Mindstorms components.  The class exercise was a simple one with no motion and no sensors.  It consisted of a 5 second wait, a 5 second beep, another 5 second wait, and a sound file "Brilliant!". 

Our first simple program

Predictably, the students were a little apprehensive, but were able to get started, write the program, download it, and run it.

Also predictably, they were excited when the program ran correctly! 

Next week we will program and run a robot to move without reference - simple dead reckoning.  During the six-week course, the robot and its tasks will become more complex. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Encino Park RoboClub is up and running

I got a note today from Ms. Vicki Craig, the teacher who is the principal sponsor for the Robotics Club at Encino Park Elementary School here in San Antonio.  She says the club will be meeting on Fridays from 3 PM to 4:30 PM.  The teams will get challenge problems to solve, now that they've built and tested their robots.  I'm planning to go and help, or at least observe.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Encino Park RoboCamp - Day 2

I'm truly amazed at the progress the kids have made in just a couple of days.  I think they will be very well prepared for the Fall semester.  They are learning the rudiments of the programming language, and they are getting more familiar with the sensors and motors.  This is going to be a fantastic year for Encino Park Robotics.  I'll bring a camera tomorrow so we can have a group photo.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Robotics for Grandparents

I'm working on the Powerpoint for the RFG class.

Finished the slides that introduce the course and the hardware - NXT brick, motors, and sensors.

I'm going to make a CD for each student to take home.  It will contain, at least, the Oregon videos that demonstrate the NXT-G programming environment.

I'll probably include the Powerpoint slides as well.

Encino Park RoboCamp - Day 1

I spent this morning at the Encino Park Elementary School Robotics Summer Camp.  EP has a great crop of new faces learning about Robots.  The school district has made some cuts that resulted in a great bonus for the Robotics Club.  The Club now has the exclusive use of an entire Portable Building, well furnished for its needs.  There is enough space to allocate half the building to playing fields, and the fields can stay set up continually.  Each team has a worktable for its building and programming tasks.  Miss Craig and Ms Herrera were the camp's "counselors" and they ably directed the student teams.  Mrs. Pearce helped in several areas.

During today's camp, I worked with several of the teams, providing a little guidance here and there.  As I told the students, I get my reward when the little light comes on and a student gets a new insight or understanding.  That happened today when one of the kids was telling me about controlling motors, and asked "what happens when the motors move in opposite directions?  OH - it TURNS!"

Today the teams made differing amounts of progress, but a couple of teams actually put robots on the playing field and made them move around. 

My friend and fellow IEEE Life Member Jim Brakefield came to today's camp, and I think he made useful contributions to the kids' progress.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Robotics Summer Camp at Encino Park

I've been informed by Ms. Vicki Craig of Encino Park Elementary School that they will be holding a three-day Robotics Summer Camp starting Monday, August 9, from 9:30 AM until Noon each day.

I have invited a couple of IEEE Life Member friends to join me in helping with the Summer Camp.

Huebner Elementary may also be doing a Summer Camp.  Maybe I can help there too.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

SA BEST Robotics event dates for 2010

These are the key dates for SA BEST for 2010 (all events at St. Mary's University)

September 11, Saturday: Kick-off
October 17, Sunday: Demo Day
October 23, Saturday: SA BEST Contest day

NOTE: These dates are tentative.  Please check the web site for updates.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dates for Robotics for Grandparents 1010

Start date: Monday, 25 October 2010
End date: Monday, 6 December 2010

Class 1: Monday, 25 October 2010, 1:00 PM to 2:15 PM
Class 2: Monday, 1 November 2010, same times
Class 3: Monday, 8 November 2010, same times
Class 4: Monday, 15 November 2010, same times
(No class Thanksgiving week)
Class 5: Monday, 29 November 2010, same times
Class 6: Monday, 6 December 2010, same times

I have requested the Art Room for this class.

The class will have a maximum of 8 students (4 for each of the two robot+laptop sets I will provide).

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Planning for the Fall semester at ALIR

In the Fall semester, I will teach the "Robotics for Grandparents" course once again.

The date and time are not yet set, but I've asked for Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday at 1 PM.  This time, the enrollment will be strictly limited to 8 students.  I have only two Mindstorms kits available this year, and two laptop computers.

I plan to use the same lesson plans as last year, with a few changes.  I won't include the Bluetooth lesson, but will substitute something else.  As we did last time, I will prepare the robots before class and then have the class modify a program to perform a simple task.