How to train children in robotics and what it takes

How to train children in robotics and what it takes

In the mid-2000s, robotics already existed, but at a very basic level and in short supply, there were sets of electronic components and design parts that the child could have assembled to make his design move. The sets included motors, sensors, controllers and software that could be used to write a program to control the robot.

This area was then promoted by enthusiasts, probably led by the same people in the Soviet Union as radio amateurs.

The design came from literally what was, and the controller's embroidery was written "on his knees," but it was enough to compete in the first robotics competition, where children and teachers shared ideas and experiences, forming some sort of robotics.

But the teachers quickly realized that robotics are not just a great hobby and entertainment for children, but also an excellent way to introduce them to modern technology in game form. By working with robots, children acquire practical knowledge in three areas: design, electrical engineering, and programming.

  • The design provides an understanding of how a robot's skeleton works, what mechanisms are and how they are designed, teaches children to design and model robots. The older the children are put into electrical engineering. Programming is more and more understandable, children are being trained to create an action algorithm for a robot.

In general, a wealth of knowledge that is useful for today's technological world: robotics today have evolved from a circle to a full-fledged discipline with curricula and textbooks, and since 1 September this year it has become a mandatory module in school work lessons.

What do robot students learn today, what sets they do for them? It all evolves along with technology. In 2014, there were popular copters, in a couple of years, 3D printers, today in focus -- computer vision and neuronets.

The Origin of the Idea

A team of engineers, programmers and market analysts are looking for new ideas for kits: they communicate with teachers, collect from them and their own Fedbecks, and the wishes of children, as well as monitor world development trends.

Many of the engineers are teachers themselves.

The information collected is compared with the latest IT trends and with the requests and requirements for sets from the winners of the robotics and programming competitions, and then they move on to create a technical task for the new sets.

The basic principle of success is simple: a robotics kit should please children. If it's too simple, it'll get too tired. It's too complicated to want to understand it. You have to find a balance based on your students' age and abilities.

Check the idea and compile TK

When the idea comes up, they gather focus groups. It's important to check at teachers and children of a particular age if they're interested and useful in a new set, and of course to understand what can be changed and refined.

Let's say the purpose of the recruitment is to introduce pre-school students to the basics of programming. Then we need to understand how interesting it is for children to make a program of bright cubes on the screen? What size should the details be? For a recruitment that familiarizes high school students with industrial manipulators, we need to determine: how many degrees of freedom should be provided, how many executives, how many motors and so on.

After the focus group, if it went well, it starts preparing detailed TK.

  • What components are needed; what size and colour they should be; what they should look like in general; what software is needed; what motors and sensors are needed, etc.

Once TK is ready and agreed, they begin to develop themselves.

Implementation of the idea

A large team is working to create each new set:

  • Engineers — they design controllers, sensors and various executive devices; designers and 3D models; software developers; methodists — develop a learning and learning complex; testers and many others.

How does this whole team work?

From Description to Real Components

When TK is ready, engineers come in. They work on the composition of the set, design every detail, model the use options, and find out which devices will be needed.

Let's say one set has to develop a new fee, the other one has to find or develop more powerful engines, or maybe we have to invent new ways to connect sensors to the controller, so that the baby can understand.

Not only do all the electronic modules come up with at this stage, they need to be designed, produced, and then tested for practicality and durability. And the interesting thing is to check the fight: how complex is the module to connect and interact with them? Will the children of a certain age be able to work with it?

We're developing software.

Even the most thought-out set without control teams is a dead kirpic. You have to create a language where children can "talk" to a robot, which is to develop a programming environment where children write algorithms for their robots. And then after the engineers come in, the programmers come in.

What should the software look like, by which a child can write a robot control program himself? Of course, it must match the age of the pupils. There are sets for children from the age of four -- no one will ever teach them Python.

For the youngest robotic technicians, there's visual software. It's very simple: every action by a robot, for example, "activate the engine" or "light the LED", corresponds to a bright block in the interface. Children build these blocks in a certain order -- and so they collect code like a puzzle.

For older people, it's classic. Children learn to program really -- they write teams to a robot with a text.

To assist the mentor: the teaching and learning complex

To create a set and software for it is one part of the problem, but we need to teach children how to use it, and if teachers are to be able to teach children, we need to train teachers first — or at least provide them with teaching materials.

The textbook should contain, first, the basics of robotics. Second, instructions for a particular set: how to work with this sensor, what commands are needed for programming, which means each color block or text command. Finally, there is a block for teachers: how to teach, how to build the whole course and better deliver material.

The new set is almost ready.

How long is the new set being created? Depends on all the previous steps, especially the work of engineers, and recently on the availability of components, so it could take months, maybe years.

So let's say, in the process of producing the new set, it turns out that some capacitor has ended, and neither he nor the equivalent can be ordered anywhere in the world, so we have to re-engineer a part of the set.

Once all the components are ready, tested and provided with methodological tools, a focus group is re-established: teachers, robotics and university students learn about the recruitment, work with it, comment on it, and then, after all the errors have been corrected, the recruitment finally goes into production.

But it doesn't stop working with it. It's always getting feedback -- from robotics teachers, from the students themselves -- and finding out what can be improved. At some point, there's an understanding that there's a need for a new set. Then the cycle repeats: focus groups, TK, a team of developers -- and the production of a new version of the set.

For young engineers, programmers, designers, and inventors, robotics are perhaps the first time they've ever known the business of their lives, and the robot kits they're going to get today determine what fantastic technologies they're going to invent in the future.

The school can't afford to buy equipment that's worth millions in factories, and that's not necessary. By writing a program for a simple robot that avoids obstacles, the kid can figure out how a robot is working, and the manipulators in the kit are an excellent way to figure out what software machines and automated assembly lines are.

In general, creating new sets for robotics is an important work that directly affects children's technological progress and knowledge. It is a complex and sometimes lengthy process. It's done by dozens of people, mostly young enthusiasts, who went into robotics themselves yesterday.