A selection of four projects is presented to accommodate a range of student skill levels and interest, teacher background and school resources. Select the relevant project for your students or allow them to choose a project that appeals to them.
Flow of Activities
Interestingly there is not widespread agreement on what a robot is. There are varying definitions of what constitutes a robot. Most roboticists, however, agree that a robot has a physical form, senses its surroundings, undertakes some form of automated action and is able to make decisions requiring a level of intelligence.
A theme worth exploring in robotics is risk vs innovation. The risks may include:
Material handling is one application of robotics. A simple solution to automate the process of material handling is to paint colour strips on the floor for the robot to follow. This form of robot can be investigated using line-tracking robots. These robots, sometimes referred to as automated guided vehicles (AGV), are portable robots that follow markers or wires in the floor, use vision, magnets or lasers for navigation.
A line-following robot uses the behaviour of light and the way light behaves when it hits surfaces of different colour. Infrared sensors mounted at the front of the robot, for example, can detect light reflected from a white surface that it reads as a value of 1 or high. Conversely, light from a black surface is absorbed and therefore detected by the sensor as a value of zero or low. These values can be used in creating a program for a development board such as an Arduino. If the value is high, the robot moves in a specified direction; if low, it moves in a different direction.
Ultrasonic sensors emit sound waves and use the reflected sound wave from an object to measure distance. Distance is then estimated by the time interval between sensor and object. A program is written to command the robot to change direction to avoid an obstacle. This can be investigated by designing a robot that move autonomously within its surroundings.
|A robot is …||An example of a robot is …|
|Characteristics of a robot are …||This is not a robot …|
Projects that incorporate a social aspect quite often provide a high level of engagement, particularly for female students.
Designing and fabricating assistive devices for a person in need can include a social aspect and a focus on innovation. This can result in a more meaningful robotics project.
There is a range of projects where students can design and fabricate an assistive device such as a robotic glove for someone who has limited hand use.
For each person, the particular needs (functional requirements) are first defined. This feeds into the requirements for the assistive device. An example of this might be that the person has a functional wrist, but might be missing fingers or have fingers that lack mobility.
These projects incorporate the use of a 3D printer. A focus here could include the sustainability of materials used, and/or of processes. Schools may not necessarily need a 3D printer onsite, as there are now options to send designs offsite to be printed and collected.
To create a robotic hand these types of projects typically incorporate the use of a microcontroller which is ‘embedded’ within the robotic hand-control system. Examples of common microcontrollers include Arduino, Hummingbird and Raspberry Pi.
Robotic hands and arms also have a place in space exploration. This may prove to be a useful alternative context in which students have an interest, and it can be used to engage students in designing their robotic device.
Use relevant stories about people who need a prosthetic to improve their quality of life. Connect these stories to the design and fabrication of a robotic hand.
Build a robotic hand
Decide on a relevant project, based on the resources available. For example, what programming boards does the school have, what electronics components and equipment are available, and is there access to a 3D printer? Select relevant online resources to provide guidance for students as needed.
Integrating data, programming and materials
Organise students into groups to investigate a robotic hand and create a working model that is controlled by a sensorised glove. Build the sensorised glove, which should incorporate the use of sensors connected via an Arduino board to visualise real-time data in an Excel spreadsheet. Use this data to make adjustments to the operation of the robotic hand and run a series of trials to investigate its dexterity.
Students may want to take the project to the next level and create a robotic hand for a particular person. This can be accomplished by accessing the e-NABLE Community website. Alternatively, students can use the downloadable website resources of existing designs to create the parts using a 3D printer. These parts can then be put together to build the working robotic assistive device.
Discuss how to evaluate the solution, discussing criteria related to a focus on sustainability, innovation and/or enterprise.
When investigating embedded systems using a context such as robotics, students will use a development board and a range of electronic components connected in a circuit to complete a design challenge.
An Arduino development board is a single circuit board that contains a built-in microcontroller. It can be connected to a range of electrical components and be programmed using a general purpose programming language. Like other development boards that contain a microcontroller, Arduino can sense the environment by receiving input from a variety of sensors and can affect its surroundings (output) by controlling lights, motors, and other actuators.
There are a range of sensors that enable a robot to gather data about its environment. These include:
When connecting these sensors and other electrical components such as LEDs in an electrical circuit, a resistor is often used in conjunction with the component to protect it from overload. When creating electrical circuits, be mindful about the use of resistors, a topic often identified in the electronics related tutorials.
Instead of a robotics context you may find some students are more likely to engage with an Arts or Design and Technologies focus that integrates electronics.
Sewable electronics such as the Arduino LilyPad are a form of wearable electronics that enable students to demonstrate their creativity incorporating the use of electronics with textiles. These pieces of tech are highly compatible with costume design or interactive arts projects.
Sewable electronics are made up of a central board that contains the microprocessor; this is what stores the Arduino sketch (the computer program). Depending on the central board, it may also contain an RGB LED, ON/OFF switch, push button, power supply socket and a number of pins. Sewable electronics kits come with conductive thread that acts as a wire to join components via an electric circuit. A range of common sensors enable data inputs such as:
Outputs typically include the LilyPad buzzer or LEDs.