Washington DC’s humidity hovered around 90 percent when the competition began on 16 July. Team Sri Lanka’s four students were sweating bullets for different reasons. In a crowded basement, parked between Senegal and Sudan their 20-wheel steel robot needed some repair work.
The bot that they built in secret in a classroom in Colombo (they called it ‘Area 52’) arrived with a warped axle and damaged omni-wheels. Two hours before departure the airline forced them to repack the 23-kilo microwave-sized contraption into two boxes. The next day the motor failed –not an uncommon problem among teams here.
But they did take on the world! In this competition, designed by FIRST Global like the Olympics, each team worked in ‘alliances’ – groups of three country teams. It was fascinating to watch each team, battling cultural and language barriers (and jet lag and sleep) work through the constraints and perform. My family and I were so proud to be there supporting them.
They did quite well in strategy and design of the bot. In terms of rankings they were placed 138th out of 163 teams – beating the US, France, and Russia. When you consider they had just 9 weeks to prepare for this (many teams had at least 12 weeks), it was quite a feat.
Kudos to coach Dilum Rathnasinghe who took on such an unthinkable task. The team comprised: Ali Anver, Ishini Gammanpila, Vinidu Jayasekera and Akash Gnanam
Here are some images from the 163-team, 157-nation Robotics Olympics. Read previous post here.
Modeled on the Olympics, FIRST Global’s inaugural international robotics event began on July 16th.
This was the opening ceremony.
I just interviewed Kris Canekeratne, CEO of Virtusa, a 20,000-strong global business consulting and IT outsourcing company headquartered in Massachusetts. Among the many strands we talked about, I was fascinated by his take on learning, and how schools ought to be the ‘ignition’ for curiosity.
“Students have an innate proclivity to curiosity,” he says – no different how engineers are inherently curious, with problem-solving and design thinking as part of their skill set. If only we could design schools to be the spark plugs of knowledge! It’s time we began exposing students to Big Data, Nanotech, AI, user experience, and gamification, he says, instead of teaching them how to memorize material just to pass exams.
To this end, here’s an example of design-thinking class at a Charter School in Berkeley, California.
I like to break to the news about a story that has been in the works since April. Sri Lanka was invited to participate in the first ever International Robotics event, billed as the Olympics of Robotics. It is organized by First Global, an extension of FIRST Robotics, by Dean Kamen, a serial entrepreneur The event will be from July 16 to July 18th.
The team (4 students) received the robot kit from FIRST Global in April. Given the short time frame, they have been moving mountains to build, program and test the robot. I have been in touch with the coach and the school while they have been prepping for this. More details will follow.
Meanwhile, here’s a look at the team testing some of the working parts of the robot.
It’s not difficult to envision robots that might be among us. After all, some already do: drones and autonomous cars.
But take this to a nano scale, and it begins to sound creepy. For instance nano-bots have been envisioned to seek and destroy cancer cells in our bodies. (A nano meter is one billionths of a meter.)
On a slightly larger scale are robots that could look like insects or other critters, and work together as a swarm –a project that a friend at Arizona State University is currently working on. These bio-inspired robots could have many applications.
So the smaller they get, and the smarter they build them, we could expect to see them be among us. What this means for students is that there will be a huge demand for those who understand, investigate and have a mindset ready to work on these curious ‘machines.’
Science and STEM teachers often bring up robotics as a way to open up this topic to young students. Most of us use bots with wheels, arms and sensors. It’s time to think small!
If you like to read more on this, there’s a wonderful blog post on Invisible Machines here at Blog Science-Teaching.
Last week, students at the summer boot camp I conducted here at Li’l Sprouts Montessori got to work with different technologies. From building robots and circuits, to using cameras and a solar oven. They also used one of the oldest ‘technologies’ that tend to be overlooked – pencil and paper.
But besides motors, and learning the software (to program the robot below) students also learned about engineering design, using toothpicks to build a bridge and a tower.
They did a fair amount of writing, maintaining their journals each day. They worked on essay writing, a news story, and poetry.
On the final day I introduced them to the solar oven, and Tanu helped them bake cookies. One batch got done in just over 30 minutes!
So next week I teach a summer camp for students involving three ‘ingredients’ – photography, creative writing and robotics.
The goal is to get students to connect visual and language arts, with technology. They will also tinker with robots, and understand how to design and program them.
This is one of the simplest bots (the NXT model) we use for the FIRST Lego League competitions. It has four different sensors, and can be modified with several wheel sizes. Students will learn to program them using Mindstorms software.
Robots don’t always have to look like this, They could be made from everyday objects found around the house. For instance, students will also experiment with ‘brush bots’ – tiny devices made from the heads of toothbrushes, of all things!
As for photography, there’s plenty of material to photograph right here in our back yard!
I’m really looking forward to the next robotics season in Fall, given the theme – H20!
For our students, Hydro Dynamics is something they’ve been passionate about this whole year, especially the Dakota Access Pipeline issue they took up, supporting the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and their water conservation efforts. They have made presentations to the community, and had many brainstorming sessions on water challenges. The theme, also harks back to an earlier environmental challenge in 2015, Trash Trek.
So when they come back in Fall, many of them who rejoin robotics will be primed to think like engineers, designers, and scientists, and problem-solve a water issue facing a community.
Here’s more about Hydro Dynamics in the 2017 season. And the teaser video.
This morning my nephews, Nikhil and Shenal, surprised me with a a video of a robotic device they built from scratch.
You’ve probably seen STEM projects that involve making bots or mechanical arms using batteries and sensors. This whatchamacallit does not require electronics. Just cardboard, pins, and syringes.
As a teacher, there are three things I love about this project:
- They don’t read off a script!
- The commentary is a conversation, building drama (including a mini count down) as the brothers wrestle with the device
- Simple explanation of the scientific principles – about levers, the ‘power’, and traction
I like how the claw seems to have a life of its own – good choice of camera angle!
This is what the Maker Space movement encourages, to build, test, fail, redesign, and demonstrate. Their ‘lab’ is their kitchen table!