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ROBOTC Graphical Natural Language

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We know that text based languages (such as ROBOTC) have advantages in terms of customizability with functions, complexity with algorithms and calculations, and typically smaller sized programs over graphical languages; however, it is difficult to overcome the simplicity and ease of use that “Drop and Drag” programming languages offer to new users just getting started with programming.

TextBasedNaturalLanguage

A few years ago (with ROBOTC 3.X), we announced our “Natural Language” feature – a simplified library of commands that used “natural” commands to control your robot, such as Forward, Reverse, and LineTrackForTime. The Natural Language feature was designed to help ‘bridge the gap’ between a graphical language and the text-based ROBOTC. Teachers have praised ROBOTC’s Natural Language for making it easier to get their students up and running faster than ever before. Currently, ROBOTC supports Natural Language on the VEX Cortex, VEX IQ, and LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT platforms for both “Real” and “Virtual” robots.

GraphicalProgrammingOverview1

Today we’re proud to give you a sneak peek to a new feature we’re calling “Graphical Natural Language”. This new interface will allow you to program robots from inside ROBOTC with easy-to-use graphical blocks that can be drag-and-dropped to form a program. Each block represents an individual command from the “text-based” ROBOTC and Natural Language.

 


 

Each block is custom designed to fit the needs for that specific function and parameters. Using text boxes and drop-down menus, users can customize each values of each function to solve various challenge and activities using the same commands as ROBOTC’s Text-Based Natural Language.

FunctionsParameters
We have also added some new language extensions to both ROBOTC and Natural Language, such as the simplistic “Repeat” command. Prior to the Repeat command, users would need to copy and paste large sections of code or use a looping structure (like a ‘for’ or ‘while loop) in order to have a set of actions repeat a certain number of times. With the new “Repeat” command, however, users can simply specify how many times they would like for the code to run, with no complex coding required.

RepeatCommand
Another awesome tool that we’ve implemented in ROBOTC 4.0 is the “comment out” feature. You can now comment out an entire line of code just by clicking on the block’s line number. Lines of code that are “commented out” are ignored by the robot when the program is run, which makes this feature very useful when testing or debugging a program. This new tool is unique to Graphical Natural Language.

CommentingOut
Because each Graphical Natural Language block corresponds to a real ROBOTC or Natural Language function, users will be able to graduate from Graphical Natural Language to full text-based Natural Language with the press of a single button. This will allow you to naturally transition from Graphical Natural Language to the text based Natural Language (or ROBOTC), without having to worry about manually converting the code line-by-line!

NaturalLanguageWithCode
We have many other features and enhancements planned for Graphical Natural Language – Be on the lookout for a preview version sometime in January!

Please Note: The screenshots and interface in this post are not the finalized version of the ROBOTC Graphical Natural Language – the names, interface, look and feel of the system may change between now and official release.

A Teacher’s POV: Programming the VEX IQ Robots

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VEX-IS-DS4In the previous entry, I shared some of the features of the VEX IQ robots. Also discussed were some ideas on how to get a classroom organized. Now that we have those things established, we can move on to a discussion of how to begin programming the VEX IQ robots.

ROBOTC for VEX IQ has Natural Language commands that will help beginning programmers of the VEX IQ by supplying a set of commands that use “natural” words. For example, the “forward” command will make your robot move forwards for a specified amount of time or distance. The robot will come to a stop after the movement. Here are some examples of the command:

——————————————————————-
Move the robot forward for 2.5 rotations:
• forward(2.5);

Move the robot forward to 180 degrees:
• forward(180, degrees);

Move the robot forward for 1.5 rotations at 30% speed:
• forward(1.5, rotations, 30);

Move the robot forward for 10 seconds:
• forward(10, seconds);
• forward(10000, milliseconds);
——————————————————————-
Natural Language also contains other helpful commands; such as, “backward”, “turnLeft”, “turnRight”, and “repeat”. Below is an example of a Natural Language sample program that is located within the Natural Language sample program folder in ROBOTC:
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/*
VEX IQ Natural Language – Port Names and Numbers
leftMotor – Port #1
rightMotor – Port #6
armMotor – Port #10
clawMotor – Port #11
touchLEDSensor – Port #3
gyroSensor – Port #4
distanceSensor – Port #7
bumperSensor – Port #8
colorSensor – Port #9
*/

task main()
{
//Configure the Natural Language to use the VEX IQ Clawbot
setRobotType(VexIQClawbot);

//Move the robot forward for 1.5 rotations (rotations are the default unit) at 50% speed (default speed)
forward(1.5);

//Turn the robot right for 1.25 rotations at 50% speed (default speed)
turnRight(180, degrees);

//Move the robot backwards for 720 degrees at 25% speed.
backward(720, degrees, 25);

//Turn the robot left for 2.5 rotations at 50% speed (default speed)
turnLeft(2.5, rotations);
}
——————————————————————-

As you can see, there are a couple things that we have to do in order to use the Natural Language functionality. To enable Natural Language, go to “Robot Menu -> Platform Type -> Natural Language”.

The easiest way to get started programming is to open a sample program or to use a template. To open a sample program in ROBOTC, go to File Menu -> Open Sample Program.

To use a Natural Language template in ROBOTC, go to File Menu -> New… -> Natural Language Template.

To make programming easier, Natural Language makes assumptions about the type of robot you are using. To configure your Natural Language program to use our VEX IQ Clawbot, use the following line of code:
——————————————————————-
setRobotType(VexIQClawbot);
More robot models will be supported in future releases.
——————————————————————-

VEX-IQ-DSFinally, you will notice in the sample program that port names and numbers are given specific names and ports. Make sure that your VEX IQ Clawbot’s motors and sensors are configured this way in order to work with the Natural Language commands.

Ok. We are ready to go with programming! What should we do? My suggestion would be to start with the Labyrinth Challenge.

The Labyrinth challenge gives the students an opportunity to engage with the VEX IQ robots and ROBOTC. The students are immediately engaged because they can see and test their robot’s movement as it makes its way through the course. Since this may be the first program that some students write, there are a couple of things worth remembering. First, makes sure the students create a flowchart before they begin programming. For more information on flowcharts, you can look here: VEX Teacher – Engineering.

VEX-IQ-DS2Second, it is important that the students describe what is going on in their programs with comments. For more information on how to utilize comments, please see here: http://www.robotc.net/vex_full/reference/hp_comment.pdf

Now you are ready to go! Good luck and have fun! Remember, if you have any questions as you are working, please visit the ROBOTC forums.

- Jason McKenna

 
 

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Written by Cara Friez

December 13th, 2013 at 6:41 am

A Teacher’s POV: Getting Started with the VEX IQ

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VEX-IQ-Carly-and-KarriThe VEX IQ robot is a great, new option for middle and high school robotics teachers. With anything new in the classroom, it’s important to have some ideas on how to best implement the new tools in the classroom.

There are some features of the VEX IQ system that teachers will notice initially. The VEX IQ brain has 12 identical ports. This means that any device (either a sensor or a motor) can be plugged into one of the ports. Also, the VEX IQ motors are smart motors; therefore, the motors can hold a position and resist external movements. Some of the sensors for the VEX IQ include a Bumper sensor, a Touch LED sensor, a Gyro Sensor, a Color sensor, and a Sonar sensor. One nice asset of the motors and sensors is the fact that they each have their own upgradeable firmware. As a result, if new features are added, the firmware for the device can be upgraded, as opposed to buying a new sensor and/or motor.

With the VEX IQ Starter Kit, there are over 850 structural and motion components. That many parts allow teachers and students lots of flexibility when it comes to building a robot. But, that’s only if they can find the parts they need. One of the first things that teachers need to do is get their kits organized. The Starter Kit comes with a storage bin and tray that help, but the amount of parts means that different pieces will need to be stored together in the storage bin. If the students know what pieces are located in each section of the storage bin, it will make the building process much easier.

VEX-IQ-JacobThe base robot for the VEX IQ is the Clawbot. The Clawbot include a gripper and a lifter arm. These features immediately grab the attention of most students; they love the idea of being able to lift and grab an object. For teachers, it is a good idea to build the Clawbot before allowing the students the opportunity to do the same. This gives teachers an idea of what problems the students may have as they begin building, and it also allows the teachers to help those students that run into problems. You can’t start anything until all the students have their robot built. Having some groups finish their robot, while other groups lag behind can be an issue. Building a robot first, puts the teacher in the best position to get everyone started off on the right foot.

When it comes time to start building, students can work on different parts of the VEX IQ Clawbot. You can divide the Clawbot into these sections: the Base, the Claw, the Tower, and the Ball Holder. One suggestion to organize a class would be to have two students work on the Base, while one student each works on the Claw, the Tower and the Ball Holder. Or, you could have one student work on each section. It’s important to note that however the class is organized for the building of the Clawbot, there should be a uniform way that the students attach the motors and sensors.

 


 

The battery for the VEX IQ robot brain comes charged, so a teacher does not need to worry about doing that preliminarily. So, once the Clawbot is built, the next thing that needs to be done is install the ROBOTC firmware and update the VEX IQ brain, motors, and any sensors that may be on the robot. Click here for directions on how to install the ROBOTC Firmware.

To update the VEX IQ brain, motors, and sensors, the VEX IQ Firmware Update Utility needs to be downloaded to your computer. The Firmware Update Utility and directions on how to utilize it can be found here.

With the next installment, we will take a look at how to set up your first programming lesson. In the meantime, teachers can take advantage of a few readily available resources at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy VEX Teacher Site and the ROBOTC Wiki to help with questions concerning programming the VEX IQ with ROBOTC.

-Jason McKenna

 
 

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Written by Cara Friez

December 5th, 2013 at 4:43 pm

RVW FTC Block Party Competition Now Live!

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Block Party CS2N ModeCarnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy, a research-based organization committed to teaching students how to program robots, is really excited to be able to support FTC teams again this year. Follow the links below to learn about FREE Programming Classes and a new Block Party Programming Game that can be used by students, teachers in classrooms, coaches, or competition providers. The new game is designed to teach programming and has over $5,000 in prizes. We’ve also made CS2N Groups Technology that enables teachers, coaches, and regional competition sponsors to host their own competitions.

In the FTC Block Party Virtual World, program one of three robots to score as many points as possible in autonomous and driver controlled modes. Score points by:

  • Placing Blocks in Floor goals
  • Placing Blocks in Pendulum goals
  • Raising the Flag
  • Hanging from the Bar

See the rules documents for the full game explanation:

  1. FTC Block Party – Autonomous CS2N Mode
  2. FTC Block Party – Remote Control CS2N Mode

 

Additional information to help you get started:

How to Setup Your Own In-Class Competition – Teachers, coaches, and competition organizers can setup their own unique programming competitions using CS2N Groups Technology.  The Robotics Academy has developed groups technology that enables teachers to setup their own in-class competitions.  To learn how to setup your own Group competition click here: http://www.cs2n.org/tutorials/competitions

Be sure to visit the CS2N.org or RobotVirtualWorlds.com for the latest version of the FTC Block Party software. Happy Programming!

RVW VEX Toss Up Competition Now Live!

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Toss-Up-CS2N-ModeCarnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy, a research-based organization committed to teaching students how to program robots, is really excited to be able to support VEX Competition teams again this year. Follow the links below to learn about a NEW VEX Toss Up Programming Game that can be used by students, teachers in classrooms, coaches, or competition providers with FREE Programming Classes that your students can take. The new game is designed to teach programming and has over $5,000 in prizes. The Robotics Academy has also developed CS2N Group Technology that enables teachers, coaches, and regional competition sponsors to host their own programming and remote control virtual competitions.

VEX Toss Up is played on a 12′x12′ square field. The object of the game is to score your colored BuckyBalls and Large Balls into the Near Zone and Far Zone, by Locking Up your colored BuckyBalls and Large Balls into the Goals, and by Low Hanging, Hanging and Ultra Hanging off your colored Bar at the end of the match.

This Virtual World is designed to simulate the Toss Up competition field and several robot designs, allowing teams to practice their programming and form winning gameplay strategies.

See the rules documents for the full CS2N game explanation:

  1. VEX Toss Up – Autonomous CS2N Mode
  2. VEX Toss Up – Remote Control CS2N Mode

Additional information to help you get started:

How to Setup Your Own In-Class Competition – Teachers, coaches, and competition organizers can setup their own unique programming competitions using CS2N Groups Technology.  The Robotics Academy has developed group technology that enables teachers to setup their own in-class competitions.  To learn how to setup your own Group competition click here:http://www.cs2n.org/tutorials/competitions

Be sure to visit the CS2N.org or RobotVirtualWorlds.com for the latest version of the VEX Toss Up software. Happy Programming!

Expedition Atlantis Beta 3 Now Available!

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We’re happy to announce a big update to the Expedition Atlantis game. Thank you to everyone who provided feedback for the previous versions – keep it coming!

One new feature that we think you’ll appreciate is the ability to create a certificate of the badges that you’ve earned, if you’ve been playing with a CS2N or Local account. It’s a great way to share the progress you’ve made in the game!

Atlantis Certificate

Here are some of the other major features and fixes we’ve made based on your feedback:

  • Fixed a bug where sometimes the game would freeze after upgrading to Helios II in Poseidon’s Courtyard
  • Improved the visibility of the distance and angle values throughout the game, especially in the Heart of Atlantis
  • Fixed a bug where the game could crash in VR Training Mode
  • Fixed a bug that could cause the game to freeze in the Underwater Base when playing in Custom Difficulty
  • Addressed possible issues when switching between difficulty levels while playing the Heart of Atlantis

To catch up on all of the latest Expedition Atlantis information, including the game unveiling and a Google Hangout with the development team, check out our Expedition Atlantis page.

Download the latest version of Expedition Atlantis at RobotVirtualWorlds.com.

Advanced ROBOTC and Robotics in the Classroom

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robotc-code-2-copySo your class has gone through the ROBOTC Video Trainer Curriculum (VEX or LEGO), are comfortable programming in ROBOTC, and the robots are starting to zip across the room: however, some students are absorbing the programming knowledge quickly, while others are taking a little longer to grasp the core concepts. Where should a teacher look to if a student (or classroom) advances beyond the pace of the class? In this post, we will take a look at some of the many advanced programming resources available for ROBOTC.

Because ROBOTC is a C-based programming language, there are many C programming features that students can lean about and implement in their code. The first resource to investigate is the ‘Programming Tips and Tricks’ section of the ROBOTC wiki. This special subsection contains samples of some of the more advanced C-based operations that can be executed using ROBOTC and are pulled from a variety of sources. Topics include structs, switch statements, tertiary operators, and more. Because all of the information is available for free online, students can research and test the topics at their own pace and gain a deeper understanding of the subjects.

An example of an advanced program using a while loop as a counter

An example of an advanced program using a while loop as a counter

Next, you may want to take a look at tutorials on the ROBOTC wiki for implementing advanced programming concepts with different sensors. Also be sure to check out ROBOTC’s Sample Programs (via the ‘File -> Open Sample Programs’) as many of the programming concepts have pieces of advanced code that can help the students understand exactly how they are applied in real-world scenarios. There are also several multi-robot projects (for the NXT) that can be found on ROBOTC’s Multi-Robot wiki and a thread dedicated to advanced ROBOTC programming with VEX which will both offer unique challenges for students to conquer, as well as a wealth of community created projects showcased on the ‘Projects Discussion‘ section of the ROBOTC forums.

Once the students have sufficiently expanded their knowledge of advanced ROBOTC programming, they will be ready to tackle more complex robotics projects. This is a perfect opportunity to encourage creativity and inventiveness with preexisting challenges (and is a perfect example of where differentiated instructions can positively impact a classroom). By utilizing differentiated instruction in the classroom, you will be able to not only challenge the newer programmers with the basic programming examples, but will also be able to engage the more advanced students with complex programming options, such as making their robots perform a challenge quicker, more efficiently, or more accurately (or a mix of all three).


YouTube Direct Link 

- John Watson

Written by Cara Friez

September 24th, 2013 at 6:59 am

Handling Common Teaching Issues

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TeacherI’ve always been of the opinion that teaching is an art, not a science. Therefore, it’s impossible to devise a scenario that will handle every issue. But, there are some common issues that arise for teachers as they teach robotics and ROBOTC.

Many students come into class familiar with different aspects of technology, but many students will be unfamiliar with some basic things. For example, never assume that students will know how to save a program while using ROBOTC. Secondly, never assume that the students will know where to save their programs. As a teacher, you need to have a plan to cover these things for students. Also, it would be helpful to have a reference for these things for the students. When students return from Christmas Break or a long weekend, sometimes these details escape them.

One things that is very important for teachers who work in classes in which the students are working cooperatively, is for the teachers to identify what is most important and to assess those things. Simply, students get better at things which are measured and assessed. For example, if you want students to use math vocabulary while solving a particular problem involving different wheel sizes, then you need to assess that. If students are working as a group to solve a problem, then each student’s role in that group needs to be defined and assessed.

IMG_2216Additionally, students working cooperatively in groups are always going to be an issue for teachers. The clearer the roles (and how those roles will be assessed) are defined for the students, the better chance you have for success. Still, teachers need to have a plan for those students who just don’t work well in groups. This plan needs to be articulated to the parents and to your administrators at the beginning of the school year.

One of the great things about teaching robotics and ROBOTC is that the first answer is hardly ever correct. This is great because the students are immersed in the problem-solving process. However, some students will become frustrated by this and immediately look to you for the answer. Teachers need to have a plan for these students. How can students work cooperatively to handle these issues? What has been done to prepare for the challenge? Is there a flow chart that the students can review for some ideas? Is there a sample program the students could examine? As teachers gain more experience working through the ROBOTC curriculum, they’ll be able to anticipate these situations more and have an answer for them.

IMG_2276The beginning of class and the end of class oftentimes determine the success, or failure, of a lesson. Teachers should always have a plan for the beginning of class to get the students settled and focused. The more structured this opening activity is, the better. If a routine is developed, the students will respond accordingly. If the students are coming to your class after gym class or lunch, for example, this opening structure will be very important. Examples of class openers could be having the students find errors in code, a review of particular concepts (what is the difference between = and ==), or an Abstraction Bridge.

In much the same way, the closure of the lesson should be used to judge the effectiveness of that day’s lesson. The most popular way to do this is with the use of an exit slip as the students leave the room.

Having a plan allows teachers to work that plan instead of getting frustrated with individual students. Planning your work, and then working your plan will help to allege some of the daily stressors that teachers face.

 
- Jason McKenna

Written by Cara Friez

September 19th, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Differentiating Instruction in the Robotics Classroom

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Main-DifferentiatedThe challenge for teachers in today’s educational environment is to teach student at their instructional level. Instead of creating an artificial level to instruct the entire class, teachers have to assess each student’s current level and create a plan to ensure that the student has academic growth from that beginning baseline. It’s best to think about this with an example. A sixth grade student has a reading comprehension at a 9th grade level at the beginning of the school year. The student takes assessments during the spring of that school year. When those assessments are scored, it shows that the student is reading at a 9th grade comprehension level. In the past, teachers and parents would be happy with that information, but the recent push towards differentiated instruction has forced educators to look at this information in a new light. What implications does this have for a robotics teacher?

IMG_1083Luckily, teaching robotics seamlessly fits into the demands of differentiated instruction. First, students are encouraged to come up with different solutions to problems. Whether it is a building challenge or a programming exercise, different students are going to come up with different solutions. Students are encouraged to do this in other disciplines also, but robotics is unique because it is so open-ended. There are only so many ways you can solve a math problem, but there is a myriad of different ways to program your robot to accomplish a task.

Secondly, students who are learning robotics are not forced to conform to an artificial ceiling. In another classroom, a teacher has to keep a student’s learning somewhat in line with the rest of the class. When teachers try to differentiate instruction, they create projects or assignments that are open-ended so students can explore those items as much as they can. However, when that assignment/project is completed, students are all brought back to the same point within the curriculum. Teaching robotics revolves around problem-based learning. IMG_2211Therefore, as the students learn how to solve a programming challenge with more sophisticated ROBOTC code, they are accelerating their knowledge both within that project and within the larger curriculum. While some students are mastering the fundamentals of programming their robot to move, other students can be incorporating more complex programming tools, like functions, into their programs. Robotics teachers can point students in the right direction so they can explore different and more intriguing programming concepts to apply to their challenges. It is not necessary that students memorize all of the different programming/building techniques, but that they know how to access the information when they need it. In this way, students are given the tools to create some ownership with their learning. That ownership, combined with the engagement of robotics helps to provide the true key to differentiation: high student interest.

Simply, if students are not interested in what they are doing, they will never develop the intrinsic motivation needed to push their learning. Students will work towards the minimum unless they are engaged and challenged. Teaching robotics provides the perfect platform to accomplish this goal and create a learning environment in which students are receiving individual acceleration and enrichment. Robotics is the perfect means to achieve the end of differentiated instruction.

- Jason McKenna

Written by Cara Friez

September 12th, 2013 at 2:30 pm