¨ My 6 year old wants to build a robot. Where do we start?
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ANSWER from Michelle Mock on 10 April 2006:
I was at Costco yesterday and found something that is much more suitable for you to start out with! There are a series of books/kits from Silver Dolphin publishers. I purchased the Robotic Bat and Robotic Hornet for $9.49 each at Costco. The kit contains a book which gives some background on robotics but most importantly, analyzes the animal as a robotic design. You then build a simple robot. It is for ages 8 and up (but with supervision totally appropriate for a six year old). These robots are VERY simple (just a few steps snapping things together). The most important thing in this case are the books and the thinking about the design. He could also use materials like styrofoam and pipecleaners to fashion "prototype" robots. Once he has created the design with simple materials, things like the Radio Shack kit could help you design real working robots. These inexpensive kits and books will give you an idea if this is something your child enjoys. If he does... then you can start looking at more expensive kits. I encourage you to have him send his questions about robotics to us, here at Imagiverse. What he learns from his thinking and wondering, will open the doors to further exploration of robotics.
If you can't find the Silver Dolphin books at Costco or a bookstore near you, see: http://www.silverdolphinbooks.com/catalog/details.asp?ISBN=1592234550
I hope this helps! Good luck and have fun!
ANSWER from Michelle Mock on 28 March 2006:
How do you assess critical thinking? I assume you are asking how individual teachers might assess a student. This can vary. Typically robotics will generate its own set of problems for students to figure out and solve. Observing students as they work and listening to their thought process as they talk their way through a problem, gives great insight into their critical thinking skills.
Often, teachers require that students put these thoughts in a journal or answer a question in an essay form. This provides one method of assessing a student's critical thinking skills but it is probably not the best way. Problem solving is very dynamic. You try things... test to see if they work... if they don't (which happens often), you try something else. Having to list all this in a journal can be very tedious and take away from the problem solving.
One way to get around this problem is to assign people jobs on their teams and let one person write the journal for the team. Team members rotate through different jobs so everyone gets the chance to do all the different jobs. This technique is one I like. Observation is a good learning experience. Writing is also something necessary in any career. The journalist for the team can observe and log the activities during problem solving and allow the teacher more insight into the group's activities.
The thing I like best about robotics is how much fun it is to learn. Making "mistakes" and trying new things is a big part of robotics and a great learning experience. It is an amazing feeling to finally get something to work the way you want.
I hope this helps!
I can't get my nitinol to contract, even with just a simple circuit, I have 1 double A battery holder, attached to a 4.7 ohm resistor and when I touch the ends to the nitinol, nothing happens.
Also I am kind of at a loss as to how I am going to acquire leg pieces. I am looking for a design that will complement and ease the stress on the nitinol wire through a bouncy design. The momentum of the bounce will ease the stress on the wires while ironically increasing stability, as it has been proven that precisely controled movement is less stable than a more random bouncing motion.
Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate your advice.
ANSWER from Michael Bastoni on 3 March 2006:
First thing I'd like to point out is that a cockroach (with which I am intimately familiar having lived for years in near equatorial regions) is a magnificent design to attempt to emulate. Good luck!
The next point I'd like to make is this: Go data mining. No only are most of the answers to your questions available at dozens of websites, but through the process of data mining, you will develop increasing literacy and technical acumen.
Through the extended process of researching and experimentation, you will quickly build a powerful knowledge base.
The few minutes I spent researching your questions led me to many good websites. Websites written by nitinol experts!
Here is one nitinol heavy website I particularly liked. In fact I bookmarked it. It answered several of your questions and all of mine!
You will like the questions and answers posted that relate to current control, wire gauge and recovery speed.
I would like to leave you, and anyone else who reads this, with this thought:
The Internet is your connection to what is fast becoming the sum of man's knowledge. Learn to use it as well as you possibly can. Believe the answers you want are there somewhere, or until having exhausted your search energy, you are certain they are not... because maybe tommorrow or the next day they will be.
Anyway... I know I did not answer your question directly, not least because they are wonderful and big questions.... but I satisfied myself that the answers to your questions are available to you!
ANSWER from Sami Schilly on 10 November 2005:
Engineering, as a whole, is the study and application of the sciences, predominantly physics and mathematics, to develop and maintain a variety of processes most deem vital in everyday life. So for robotics engineering, depending on which concentration you would be most interested in, you would apply your learnings to develop the physical beings used in robotics (mechanical, electrical, computer science, manufacturing, possibly civil), the software used in robotics (mostly computer science), or there are even possibilities within aerospace engineering to create airborne robotics. As you can see, there are many possibilities, and a defined field in specific robotic engineering is probably emerging as the search for new technology continues.
For more information about robotics, please check out our robotics interview pages, particularly Ayanna Howard's and Peter Abrahamson's, for more information:
For more information about Engineering and Technology, please check out these interviews:
Thank you for your question, and good luck in the future.
ANSWER from Wendy Wooten on 11 July 2005:
ANSWER from Mike Bastoni on 12 April 2005:
FYI... My students and I are now involved in underwater robotic competitions with other high schools... this is really a cool use of robots. We don't use them just to play games... we actually make useful ROV's that can really explore the watery depths of our planet... and after all, 2/3 of the earth is covered with water!
ANSWER from Stephanie Wong on 25 August 2004:
ANSWER from Michelle Mock on 2 August 2004:
You deserve better.
Thank you for writing to Imagiverse. I hope we hear from you again.
ANSWER from Bonnie Walters on 11 March 2004:
At my school we do it differently. K-5th grade and 7th grade are involved. Mesa Union is a K-8 school. The Elementary Team (K-5) makes the Marscape and rovers. Each grade is assigned a specific job: research, design, forming, papier mâché, gluing and sanding, and painting. They also count and sort the rover pieces by color and shape and assemble them. Next the completed boards come to MY house where they sit in my living room for 3 months till the end of the mission. I then work with the 7th grade class on programming and imaging. There is a considerable amount of math and measuring involved. When the 7th grade launches and lands on the Marscape, they are emailing me the commands and I am sending the images to them. It is truly a sight unseen since they were not involved with the Marscape. At the end of the "mission" I bring the Marscape back to the school and they can see how close they were with their replicas. Lastly, they divide into shifts and each grade comes through while the 7th grade students give them an oral presentation and show them the results of their work.
So to answer the traveling part of your question... I suppose so since it traveled to my house! If your school has space to store the Marscape (8'X8') where the 7th graders won't see it that's great! However you need Internet access and an ability to carry out their commands. This is our second year running MER REP and the school loves it! Each year teachers are welcome to join the mission and whoever signs up becomes a team member! This year I am working with 13 teachers. All mission jobs are broken up to grade appropriate levels and is curriculum driven for each grade. As the kids move up the grades they get to do different jobs.
Is it still being developed? I might tweak the way I teach programming and imaging each year as I become more proficient, but we are exploring Mars full steam ahead! By the way, I am not a staff member but an interested volunteer who wants to give the kids the experience of a lifetime!
Bonnie J. Walters
ANSWER from Michelle Mock on 12 March 2004:
The project is very flexible. You can pick and choose which parts work best in your classroom or school and adapt as necessary. The project can also be done district wide as has been done in the Los Angeles Unified School District in Los Angeles, California. Please write back with any specific questions you have about implementing the project in your classroom or school. It is an incredible learning experience for all ages!
ANSWER from Ayanna Howard on 8 August 2003:
You're off to a very good start. Experiencing on your own with the hands-on activities is great. It's the nut-and-bolts that helps you solve the problems, along with the theory. The STAMP kit is actually used in a lot of robotic competitions (FIRST, for example). You should learn a lot.Keep up the fire!!
Dr. Ayanna Howard
DISCLAIMER: JPL now requires notice in all electronic communication that all personal and professional opinions presented herein are my own and do not, in any way, represent the opinion or policy of JPL.
ANSWER from Ayanna Howard on 27 May 2003:
ANSWER from Michael Bastoni on 18 February 2003:
6061 T-6 aluminum welds beautifully and machines well also. 6061 T-6 cannot be bent! It will fracture. It is a very hard aluminum alloy. Aluminum can be cut with a table saw. Use a carbide tipped 80 tooth triple chip blade with 0 rake angle, or even better a negative 2-4 degree rake angle. Any decent industrial tool shop will have one in stock.
All in all, aluminum is a great choice. Easy to work with, light, machinable, weldable, fairly tough, fairly hard, fairly light, fairly inexpensive... an ideal compromise between steel and titanium.
Did you know one of the common titanium alloys is aluminum?
We use lots and lots of 1/4" 6061 T-6 plate in our designs. It makes decent armor, and great motor mounts and chassis components.
ANSWER from Mike Bastoni on 14 November 2002:
Note: Gearscamp.com no longer exists. The company is now Gears Educational Systems LLC and we manufacture robot kits for junior and senior high school technology and engineering programs.
We had kids from grades 4, 5, 6 and 7 attend our camps. The short answer to your question is yes, they can do what is necessary but there are some caveats.
1.) Younger children require more supervision and assistance. These kids are capable of completing sophisticated assemblies but they require proportionately more teacher/counselor input.
2.) Younger children are not always as aware of the potential hazards involved in many assembly tasks such as soldering and wiring circuits. Again, they require closer management. As you know, solder melts at dangerously high temperatures and no one wants to see an unsuspecting child get hurt.
In order to ensure close supervision we arranged children in teams of two and three, and we provided enough oversight (1 counselor per 2 teams) to ensure that the children always had immediate access to help and support.
Over the life of Gearscamp we learned that young children are capable of astounding success and achievement when they are provided with the opportunities to succeed and achieve... not a new discovery to be sure... but one that is always welcomed.
Good luck in your efforts to empower the "Little ones".
23 September 2006
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