Friday, November 18, 2011

Tuscany Heights Elementary School

Yesterday (Thursday, 11/17/11), I had the pleasure of talking about Space Robots to the Robotics Club at Tuscany Heights Elementary School.  The kids (about 40 of them) were polite and attentive, and they asked very good questions during and after my presentation.  I showed them the "Rat Brain" video, the "Robot Actress" video, and the "Kitchen Robot" video.  After the club meeting was over, I gave Ms Hernandez a copy of my presentation and all the videos.

I'm looking forward to talking again to this fine group of future robotics engineers.

I told Ms Hernandez about "Robotics for Grandparents" and offered to hold the course at Tuscany if there was interest among parents.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thousand Oaks Elementary School

This morning I had the pleasure of presenting "Space Robots I Have Known" to the 4th and 5th grades at Thousand Oaks Elementary School in San Antonio.  I gave a slide presentation, then showed some interesting video clips.  The kids were very attentive and polite, and asked very good questions.  I think that they will be well prepared to design the next generation of space robots. 

Thanks to Mrs. Jenness Davidson for inviting me, and to the principal and other faculty for making everything go smoothly.

I'm looking forward to telling my story at other schools in the area.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Day 6 - wrapping up

Things have been busy!
Today we had the last class meeting for the 2011 edition of RoboticsForGrandparents.  There was no programming to be done, but I did give the class a challenge - to build the "five minute bot" from  They did fine, except that I left out two pieces from the parts kit.  One student was able to invent a way around that problem, so we had a bot that would run around on the table.  An added bonus was a visit from Mike Henry, a FIRST Senior Mentor who likes to talk up youth robotics.  He identified and compared several robotics programs available in the San Antonio area, and showed us some of his robots.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Interest in "Robots I Have Known"

It appears that the word is getting around about my presentation "Space Robots I Have Known".  I've had e-mail inquiries from three different elementary schools, wanting to know when I can give the talk.  I'll keep you posted on how that goes.  SA BEST is in full swing, so Fridays are limited.

Day 2 - Moving!

In this week's lesson, we worked on moving the robot around, combining the MOVE block with things we already knew.  It was interesting to see the different teams' approach to solving the problem.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Day 1 of RFG 2011

Today's class went without a hitch.  All seven students showed up, and I think they had a good time playing with the robots.  Everybody got the bot going and made it beep and talk, which is a great start.  I think they're already having as much fun as the 5th graders!

One thing that's a problem is the lighting in the room.  When we switch from looking at the projection screen to looking at laptops it is a problem for some.  I'm going to close the blinds next time.  I sure wish the Mindstorms brick had louder audio.  Maybe I will do something about that.

Next week we'll try to get the bot to move and turn.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dextre robot works aboard Space Station

This article,,

tells about some recent activity with Dextre, the special purpose end-effector that's now in use on the Space Station.  When I first heard about it in 1977, it was thought to be something more complex than just a gripper, but this is *amazing*!  It can ride around on the tram while the Canadarm2 does other things, and it has small tools that it can use to fix things.  It is also capable of teleoperation from Mission Control!  The only limitation I see is that only one of Dextre's arms can be moved at a time, with the other locked in place.  That's a minor limitation in my opinion.  Good work, ROBO team!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Donation - Thank you!

Jon and Wiede Cutshall of San Antonio have most generously donated a Lego Mindstorms NXT set for use in the Robotics For Grandparents class.  They had previously purchased the kit for use in the GEAR (Getting Excited About Robots) program.  For several years, GEAR in San Antonio was operated by the San Antonio BEST organization.

Thanks, Jon and Wiede!

Laptop news.

The SA BEST laptop that I hoped to use was not up to the task.  It lacked USB ports and wireless LAN capability, and was loaded with Windows 95, which is not compatible with the Mindstorms NXT software that we will be using.

Fortunately, I was able to find a laptop on Craigslist that will fit the bill.  It's a bit newer, and has a freshly installed Windows XP as well as USB ports and wireless capability.  It came at a good price, and the seller threw in an installation disk for Windows XP.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Some good news

I have good news!  The Robotics for Grandparents class size limit has just increased from 8 to 12.  This is due to the generous loan of a Mindstorms NXT kit and a Dell laptop computer by the gang at SA BEST Robotics.  We will now have 3 robots to work with, one for each 4 students. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Field Trip scheduled for the RFG class

On Saturday, October 15, the RoboticsForGrandparents class will have an optional field trip to the 2011 San Antonio BEST robotics competition.  This will be an opportunity to do some basic volunteer work and see how exciting robotics can be.  See for current information on the competition and for directions to the Convocation Center at St. Mary's University.

This year's competition theme is "BUGS!" 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Class schedule for Fall 2011

The class schedule for "Robotics for Grandparents" for Fall 2011 has been set.

This is a six-week class, meeting once per week.

The first class meeting will be at 9:30 AM on Monday, September 12th.  It will last 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Class dates for your calendar:

September 12, 19, 26
October 3, 10, 17

Due to the limited amount of lab equipment available, enrollment is strictly limited to 8 students.

Students should have a basic familiarity with the running of applications under Windows, but do not need any knowledge of programming, engineering, or robotics.

Most of the class sessions will include a few minutes of lecture followed by hands-on lab.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Encino Park Robotics Club

Last Friday, April 15th, I visited the Robotics Club at Encino Park Elementary School and gave a slide presentation "Space Robots I Have Known".  At the beginning of the presentation, I passed around a couple of space program artifacts from my bookshelf: a wooden mockup of a spacecraft "black box", made of white pine, and a pushbutton "ENTER" switch from the Shuttle Orbiter's Cockpit Avionics Upgrade program, which was cancelled.

The presentation took about 40 minutes, and was followed by viewing of some live-action and animated videos showing the space robots in action.

The club members, all 5th graders, had many interesting questions about what those robots could do.

JPL Mars Rover "Curiosity" article and great animation

This article from IEEE Spectrum Robotics newsletter shows the complete landing and deployment sequence of this new robotic rover.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Newsletter

IEEE Spectrum is a magazine for members of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and is sent to all members.  Spectrum also has an e-mail "Robotics Newsletter" that is sent out twice a month, at no charge, to anyone who subscribes.  The Robotics Newsletter is well-written and always has interesting content.

You can subscribe to the newsletter at, and you can unsubscribe anytime.