June 1, 2015

Learn Science with Educational Robotics

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

With electronic devices making their way into our daily lives (remote controls, office equipment, appliances, toys, smart phones, cars, etc.), even robots have started to leave the shop floors of automotive manufacturers where they have been confined and relegated to repetitive tasks for a number of years now.

They now have applications in many new areas (smart homes, industrial informatics, telecommunications, etc.) at the forefront of electronics and information technology, where software and equipment combine through microprocessor platforms (the brains) and microcontrollers (the brawn).

Think of sunflower solar panels which, like a sunflower, follow the movement of the sun to optimize their output throughout the day. And where do humanoid robots figure in all this, you ask? Watch this series of videos and more specifically, the parts about Asimo, which was designed by Honda. It mimics a human so well that you’d think there was a person hidden inside the robot’s shell.

Mother Nature has long been a source of inspiration for researchers, since animals have demonstrated remarkable diversity, resiliency, strength and adaptations! This is why biologists and engineers are working hand-in-hand to invent robots inspired by the animal kingdom.

When applied in the educational milieu, Educational Robotics is a tool that helps to make abstract concepts more concrete, such as the diameter of a wheel and the distance travelled, movements and angles, obstacle detection and wave frequencies, etc.

Educational Robotics have enjoyed interesting uses within kindergarten, elementary and secondary schools for some time now. Judging by a call for assistance that was recently posted in the IT Representatives’ Network (REPTICs), Robotics seem to be present mostly in colleges who are offering Computerized Systems Technology, Industrial Electronics, Computer Science and Mathematics or  Mechanical Engineering Technology.

Educational robotics projects can bring people together and provide enriching activities from a wide range of disciplines. Have you ever thought about the mechanics that allow you to move around while maintaining your balance? Or what dancing means for a robot? Have you dreamed about setting a record for solving the Rubiks cube in a few seconds?

Several platforms, including the Arduino programmable microcontroller (widely considered the modelling clay of robotics) and the Raspberry Pi (more of a microprocessor with an impressive amount of computational capacity for its size and price) allow students to take first their first steps accompanied by solutions like Lego Mindstorms.

As with the dynamic Robotics club at the Collège Bois-de-Boulogne, many students are now flocking to the Robotics club in their own educational institutions. These clubs allow students to team up and make new creations based on certain robotic challenges, such as the ones launched by the Crée ta ville technological innovation project organized by Cégep Gérald-Godin. Some clubs will even enter competitions with thousands of students from different age groups taking part.

One thing’s for sure, young people have an infatuation with Robotics. That’s why the Vitrine technologie-éducation (VTÉ), in partnership with Robotique Zone01, is trying to promote the virtues of Educational Robotics by demystifying the field for the college network. Robotique Zone01 is a non-profit organization which has a four-tiered mandate to advance Educational Robotics:

  • Promote technology education to help Student Retention;
  • Support teachers in integrating educational robotics in their classroom with our programs designed to their classroom level;
  • Facilitate interactions between educational robotics enthusiasts;
  • Support the development of robotics competitions in Canada.

At the VTÉ, we would like to study the area in more detail to help you make an informed choice when selecting a robotics platform. In exchange, we would like to hear back from you about what programming suites you are using, including certain platforms that are accessible to beginners. Have you perchance tried out MIT’s Scratch?

Are you the adventurous type? Then be one of the first CEGEPs to take part in regional and provincial Robotics competitions. You may even qualify to represent Canada at the World Robot Olympiad. This year’s competition is taking place in Doha, Qatar!

About the author

Christophe Reverd

After an initial career as an entrepreneur, then as an IT consultant, he joined the team at Vitrine technologie-éducation as an ICT Education Advisor. Christophe holds a Master’s degree in IT Governance and completed a “microprogramme” in Pedagogy of Higher Education at the Université de Sherbrooke, where he teaches as a lecturer to IT professionals and graduate students in the Administration and Science Faculties. He is also involved as a board member of the not-for-profit Robotique Zone01 and created the Club Framboise, which brings users of the Raspberry Pi computer from Montreal and surrounding regions together.

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