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Setting Up Robots – LEGO Edition

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SettingUpLEGONow that the physical robot kits are in the classroom and ROBOTC is installed and activated, you should be ready to build the physical robots for your classroom. One of the best features of a LEGO Mindstorms educational robotics kit is that they allow students to create a nearly limitless range of robots; the downside of this, however, is maintaining student-created robots in a classroom. To help with this, ROBOTC and their related Video Trainer Curriculum support several standard models to help keep a baseline in the classroom.

cutout_rem_gripper_T_300The first of such robots we will look at is the NXT REMbot (which stands for ‘Robotics Education Model), the standard NXT that is used in the ROBOTC Curriculum for TETRIX and LEGO MINDSTORMS. The REMbot utilizes three NXT motors (two for driving, one for the (optional) arm), a Light Sensor mounted below the robot, a Touch Sensor mounted in the front, a Sonar Sensor positioned above the robot, and a Sound Sensor on the side of the REMBot. This model allows for a variety of tasks to be completed and is designed to work with all of the challenges in the ROBOTC Curriculum.

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If your classroom will be utilizing the TETRIX kit, the Mantis Robot standard model would be the build of choice. The Mantis Robot utilizes the TETRIX kit to add two TETRIX DC motors (for driving) and a TETRIX Servo (for the arm), as well as the respective motor and servo controllers; all of which are fully programmable in ROBOTC. Sensors can be added using any of the remaining sensor ports (one of which is used by the HiTechnic Motor/Servo controller chain).

Users of the MATRIX kits are not left in the dark however! MATRIX also has several options to use in the classroom, but the Quick Start Rover stands out from the pack. Combined with The Little Gripper, the MATRIX kits can be quickly and effectively set up for a standard robotics classroom. Like the TETRIX bots, the Quick Start Rover can be outfitted with NXT sensors on any of the remaining sensor ports for added versatility. It uses two MATRIX motors for movement and a MATRIX servo for The Little Gripper (all controlled through one MATRIX controller), all of which is fully programmable in ROBOTC.

Visit CMU’s Robotics Academy LEGO site for more information on the different kits available and to find build instructions.

 
 

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Written by John Watson

September 10th, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Which Robotics Kit Should I Use? LEGO Edition

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EV3-Cutout-01-copyNow more than ever, robotics educators are faced with the important question of which kit they should purchase and use. This key question has been made even more intricate in the 2013-2014 school year due to the addition of the new robotics kit, LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3. This article will help break down LEGO’s kits, their capabilities and target audiences, and allow you, the educator, to make an informed decision on which kit is best for your particular classroom.

The LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 is the all-new robotics kit from LEGO Education (creators of the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT system). It is fully compatible with previous NXT hardware (except for the battery), including all plastic structural pieces and sensors.

  • Compatibility with the MATRIX and TETRIX metal systems is expected in fall 2014.
  • Those starting a classroom from scratch need not worry; the EV3 comes with a total of 541 elements, including a multitude of structural parts (beams, connectors, wheels, gears, etc), 4 different sensor types (color sensor, gyroscopic sensor,  ultrasonic sensor, and touch sensor), 3 motors, and the EV3 micocontroller or ‘brain’.
  • The EV3 microcontroller sports 4 sensor ports, 4 motor ports, a internal Bluetooth adapter, and a USB slot which can be used with a WiFi adapter for wireless connectivity (as well as microSDHC card slot which supports cards up to 32GB in size).
  • It utilizes a Linux-based firmware which allows for on-brick programming and datalogging.
  • The EV3 is already legal in First Lego League (ages 9-14), but we are still waiting on information on when it will be legal for First Tech Challenge (High School) competitions.
  • Recommended use: Middle School (EV3) or High School (with MATRIX or TETRIX kit).

Other-BUG-Robots

Now, let’s take a look at the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT V2.0. Released in 2009, the NXT platform utilizes a plastic snap-fit hardware structure system, with 431 elements included in the base kit.

  • These elements consist of both structural pieces (beams, connectors, and axles, to name a few), three interactive servo motors, the NXT microcontroller, and ultrasonic, light, sound, and two touch sensors included.
  • There are also many third-party sensors available from sites such as Hitechnic, Dexter Industries, and Mindsensors.
  • The NXT is also fully compatible with the MATRIX and TETRIX metal systems.
  • Wireless capabilities include built-in Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity (provided by an external Samantha Module adapter).
  • The NXT is currently a legal microcontroller for both the First Lego League (FLL, ages 9-14) and First Tech Challenge (High School) challenges.
  • Recommended use: Middle School or High School (with MATRIX or TETRIX metal kit).

We understand that choosing a robotics kit is a tough decision. The number one factor in determining which kit is right for you will come down to the students; depending on the skill level of the students, it may be better to challenge them with a more advanced kit  (MATRIX or TETRIX kits) or they made need to start with a simpler kit (LEGO NXT or EV3 kits). No matter which kit you decide to use, though, you can rest easy knowing ROBOTC will fully support all of these platforms.

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Written by John Watson

August 27th, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Organizing a Robotics Classroom

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IMG_4201Getting your classroom organized for the beginning of the school year is an arduous task for even the most experienced teacher.  It can be even more demanding for those that teach robotics.  You’ve got the robot kits, you’ve been trained in ROBOTC, but how do you set up your class for the first day of school?  The goal of this article is to help answer the question for both new robotic teachers and teachers that have been teaching robotics for years.

As we all know, a robotics kit is more expensive than a textbook.  Moreover, because robotics kits contain so many small pieces, they can be much more difficult to take care of than a textbook.  As a result, keeping your kits organized is crucial.  If using a LEGO MINDSTORM NXT, EV3, or TETRIX robot, one way that I have found that can be very helpful is to name the NXT brick.  Then, give the same name to the kit. Now, assign the kit to the group of students in your class.  If the students know that over-tablethey are responsible for that kit, it goes a long way towards them acting more responsibly with the kit. If using a VEX robot, you won’t have the same ability to name your brick, but you can still able to label your robotics kit.

Which students are assigned to work together is also something that the teacher must put some thought into.  Once again, maintaining the kits is of the utmost importance.  Therefore, I am not going to allow students to work together if I feel that will not take care of the kit.  Some students are more organized and careful with the kits than others.  I always try to have one of those students in a group.  I try to have the kits named and assigned before the first day of school.  If I don’t know the students, then I may have to adjust the groups as we progress throughout the beginning of the school year.

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Once the kits are organized, the teacher can then start to think about how their curriculum items are going to be accessed and utilized.  A math teacher has a plan for when their students have a question about a topic, or when a student is confused about a particular concept.  A robotics teacher has to have the same type of plan in mind.  The beauty of teaching robotics lies in the fact that students are intrinsically motivated to find answers to their problems because they are highly engaged.  Some students will still be conditioned, however, to try to elicit the answer from the teacher instead of reasoning through a problem on their own.  Robotics teachers need to create a plan so the students can work towards being independent and productive problem solvers.

To that end, a good approach to a complex challenge is to examine what needs to be done before the challenge, during the challenge, and after the challenge is complete.  Before the challenge, students should be focusing on create flowcharts to organize their program and writing pseudocode to reflect those flowcharts.  During the challenge, students should focus on commenting their code and debugging techniques.  Afterwards, students should be afforded the opportunity to reflect and respond to what went well, what went not so well, and what they learned throughout the process.

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Giving students a little bit of structure while they engage a challenging task will go a long way towards ensuring that the students’ high level of engagement does not turn into a high level of frustration.  Engagement works both ways in that sense: High engagement leads to students that are focused on their task, but can also lead to high levels of frustration because the students desperately want to finish that task.  To avoid the frustration,teachers should provide a structure that the students can rely on when needed.  Before the school year begins, teachers should spend some time planning students’ work, and then the students can spend time during school working their plan.

The beginning of the school year is always a challenge.  As teachers, we understand that unforeseen difficulties will always arise.  However, going into the school year with as much planned and organized as possible helps us to focus on those unpredictable events that will undoubtedly occur.

Check out how we organize robot parts at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy:


-Jason McKenna

Robotics Back to School Blog Series

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SCHOOL-BUS-DRIVERIt is that time of year again … backpacks on our backs, buses on the streets, and lessons being planned. Yes, we are going back to school! To kick start the school year, we are introducing a six week robotics back to school blog series that highlights the technical and pedagogical side of planning for your robotics classroom. John Watson, from ROBOTC customer support, and Jason McKenna, a K-8 Gifted Support Teacher in the Hopewell Area School District outside of Pittsburgh, PA, will be sharing with you tips, tricks, advice, and recommendations on prepping your robotics classroom and curriculum.

As each blog is posted, the topics below will turn into hyperlinks, so feel free to bookmark this page!

Topics

If you have any questions or would like to start a conversation on any of the topics, feel free to leave us a comment below!

FTC Kickoff 2013 Pittsburgh PA

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FTCicon

Join fellow PA FTC teams at this season’s Pennsylvania FTC Season Kick-off on September 7, 2013 from 11am to 4pm! This season it has expanded to three locations (East/Downingtown, Central/Millersville, West/Pittsburgh), and the three sites will be linked together to form one large virtual Kick-off event. The Pittsburgh event will take place at Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center.

 
 
 

Schedule of Events:

11:00 Registration
11:15 Local Info Sessions / Tours (see below)
12:15 Lunch
1:00 Welcome and Opening Remarks
1:10 Pennsylvania FTC 2013-2014 Season
1:30 Judging / Engineering Notebook Update
2:00 ROBOTC / Robot Virtual Worlds Update
2:30 TETRIX and Matrix Update
2:45 Break
3:00 2013-2014 FTC Game Reveal!
3:15 Local Game Discussion
4:00 Event Complete

Tour Information – Teams visiting the West/Pittsburgh region will have a chance to tour the National Robotics Engineering Center – a research hub of Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. Teams will learn about how state of the art robotic concepts are being utilized in commercial, agriculture and military applications. Teams will also get to see the research and development labs for Carnegie Mellon’s Tartan Rescue, creators of CHIMP for the newest DARPA Robotics Challenge. Learn more by visiting http://www.rec.ri.cmu.edu.

Written by Cara Friez

August 14th, 2013 at 5:50 pm

NXT ‘Coltar’ Blends Art, Science

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In years past, the science and art fields were generally considered to be diametrically opposed; if something was scientific it usually didn’t have artistic value, and if it was a work of art it probably didn’t do much for the scientific community. Recently, though, the line between art and science has been blurred and blended in some very unique and interesting ways.

A prime example of this is a color-sensing “Coltar” made by Youtube user PhilippLens. By mixing imagination with ingenuity, PhilippLens created the hybrid guitar using a LEGO Mindstorms NXT brick with a color sensor and two touch sensors (one on the Coltar itself, the other on the ‘pick’). Using the touch sensors to control chords and the color sensor to control which notes are being ‘strummed’ allows the Coltar to emit a surprisingly large range of notes.


YouTube Direct Link 

For more information on this cool project, check out Philipp’s Reddit post. You can also download the code here.

Written by John Watson

August 20th, 2012 at 12:19 pm

New NXT X-Y Plotter ‘Draws’ Attention

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The NXT X-Y axis plotter showcasing some simple shapes it drew.

When you think of a printer, what images come to mind? Generally, printers are considered necessary but frustrating (Office Space, anyone?) pieces of office equipment and like most other cubicle furnishings they are usually pretty boring.

Not so much anymore.

McNamara has yet again created something functional yet stylish, this time by turning an NXT and some Mindstorm parts into a surprisingly accurate X-Y axis plotter. Quite possibly the coolest thing about the plotter, though, is that (taken from McNamara’s blog) “An X–Y plotter is a plotter that operates in two axes of motion (“X” and “Y”)… The term was used to differentiate it from standard plotters which had control only of the “y” axis, the “x” axis being continuously fed to provide a plot of some variable with time.” This mean that the pen itself moves in both the X and Y directions (technically it moves in all 3 axis of motion, but the Z axis doesn’t come into play on this plotter, except to move the pen on and off the dry-erase board) and that the table stays in a static position; very cool.

Don’t take our word for it though; check it out on McNamara’s blog (complete with pictures, video, code, and building instructions)!

Written by John Watson

August 15th, 2012 at 8:52 am

Very cool Omniwheelchair

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Simon Burfield, a.k.a. Burf has made a super cool model.  By model I mean chair and by chair I mean omnidirectional wheelchair. Oh and it’s life-sized, too.  Yeah, it is capable of handling no less than 90 kg!  I saw a video of an early prototype a few weeks ago but this new one is even better-er!

Some facts:

  • It uses 7 Mindstorms bricks. One for controlling and 6 that are used for moving.
  • Each driving NXT has two motors attached to it.  I presume that a third motor would probably be pushing it when it comes to providing current.  It’s not easy to push that much LEGO and human meat around.
  • The master NXT has 4 touch sensors connected (forward, back, left and right) and 2 motors to switch on the drive touch sensors.
  • It uses Rotacaster’s omniwheels to make it possible to move in any direction (except up, of course).
  • It is programmed in ROBOTC (of course)

Here’s one of the videos he made:


YouTube Direct Link 

Isn’t this awesome? Go check out the other pictures and videos on the original article page: [LINK]. [via BotBench]

Written by Xander Soldaat

August 1st, 2012 at 8:06 am

ROBOTC for LEGO MINDSTORMS 2.0

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rc_icon_newThe Robotics Academy is proud to announce the arrival of ROBOTC for Mindstorms 2.0. This new version of ROBOTC is coming almost a year after the release of ROBOTC for Mindstorms 1.40. ROBOTC 2.0 adds a lot of new feature and functionality to the popular programming language for LEGO NXT robots.

ROBOTC for LEGO MINDSTORMS is a ANSI-C based programming language for the MINDSTORMS NXT and RCX robotic systems. ROBOTC offers users a common programming language across different popular robotic platforms; with a unique powerful run-time debugger that give a user complete feedback on all input, outputs, and variables in their programs.

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Written by Vu Nguyen

November 17th, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Posted in NXT,Releases

Tagged with , , ,