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A Teacher’s POV: Palisades Middle School Robotics Initiative

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Training at Carnegie Robotics Academy

After last summer’s on-site training at Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy, Palisades Middle School’s technology and computer teachers initiated semester STEM units featuring the VEX Cortex Clawbot, Robot Virtual Worlds software, and ROBOTC programming. 8th grade students now experience how to build and program a robot through collaborative teamwork.

In technology class groups of students learn about robotic systems and mechanics by building and remotely controlling a VEX Clawbot. In computer class students program the VEX Cortex Clawbot in a virtual, immersive environment using Robot Virtual Worlds software and through coursework provided by Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy’s CS2N Moodle-based learning management system. By combining their knowledge and skills in groups, students will ultimately compete using autonomous and remote-control programming in a class competition called, “Tic Tech Toe”.

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Julia, 8th grade middle school student

I attend Palisades Middle School and am in the 8th grade. I love how both our computer and technology class are combined. Being brand new to the whole experience of robotics, finding new ways to use technology educationally is something that really intrigues me. Currently I am in computer class and cannot compare it to anything else. Overall, the atmosphere and supportive people make this experience fun and worthwhile. It has introduced me to concepts that I didn’t even know were possible and are very educational. For example, I have recently learned to use a very cool program called ROBOTC. Basically, ROBOTC is a program which allows you to give your robot “tasks”. In my computer class we have been doing this quite a bit and I just love everything about it. Its a new and educational way for students to learn programming. My learning this at a young age really builds success for the future.

Lydia, 8th grade middle school student

Student-Created Simulated Field  Created in RVW Level Builder

Student-Created Simulated Field
Created in RVW Level Builder

Our technology and computer classes joined together while working on robotics. I really enjoyed being able to create and program robots. In our tech class each student was assigned a partner to build a robot and race it in a competition against fellow classmates. Our computer class involved robotic programming.We learned how to compile and download programs to a virtual robot and complete different challenges. This program was so much fun and I really enjoyed how we got to experience both “hands-on” and “hands-off” learning.

Making Robotics Real for Students

There is a real advantage in learning how to program in a virtual environment. Most programming courses offer 2-dimensional “Hello World” feedback. Robot Virtual Worlds gives students immediate 3-D feedback and opens their eyes to real-world programming applications. We have been pleasantly surprised with how students respond with interest to learning how to program when it’s presented in this context.

Robot Virtual Worlds also offers an engaging method of project-oriented learning involving challenges. Students don’t just program the robot to move, they learn what it would be like to manipulate a robot through various simulated environments. These environments called “worlds” could be a space mission, tropical island, or could even be student-designed obstacle field. These worlds have been effective in stimulating interest and maintaining learner engagement.

Palisades4In addition to the classroom experience, our first semester students also visited a local robotics company and learned first-hand how their robotics experiences have real-world relevance. Students were given the opportunity to see actual robots in development and other related technologies. This visit got the student’s attention, providing them with a better understanding of potential opportunities in engineering and programming.

We are anxious to continue this collaborative program. There was an initial investment in training, software, and hardware, but we feel that the return for the students is well worth it. In sharing our classes and resources, students are learning about information and machine technology in a unique way. We hope that this transfers over into their continuing studies and even future careers.

National Robotics Week – VEX IQ Challenge!

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NRWeek

To celebrate National Robotics Week, we’ve opened up our FREE VEX IQ Virtual Challenge for everyone to participate!!

The VEX IQ Virtual Challenge is part of an ongoing research project by Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy and the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center designed to assist robotics teams learning to program.

Participating students will learn programming that enables them to solve this year’s VEX IQ Virtual Highrise Challenge. As they learn they will also earn an Introduction to Robotics and Programming Certification.

Robomatter is pleased to be working closely with the Robotics Academy to create high quality STEM learning experiences, and has agreed to provide access to all related materials FOR FREE to celebrate National Robotics Week!

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The game available for the challenge is VEX IQ Highrise Beltway! In Beltway, you will program your VEX IQ robot to autonomously score as many cubes as possible during the 2 minute period. The standard Highrise game has been augmented with a conveyor belt around the perimeter and several other game play elements. Click here for a more extensive list of the new rules and game play. Beltway is available in the latest update to the VEX IQ Highrise Robot Virtual World download.

Check out our gameplay video to see it in action …

And also read our most recent Teacher POV post that highlight VEX IQ Beltway!

Sign up for the challenge today!

Happy Programming!!

Written by Cara Friez

March 30th, 2015 at 10:12 am

Student POV: Droids Robotics

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DroidsIn our newest edition of Student POV, we have Sanjay and Arvind Seshan, who are members of the robotics team, Not the Droids You Are Looking For (Droids Robotics) from Pittsburgh, PA, USA. They are actively involved in robotics all year around, whether competing themselves or teaching others. They constantly share some great pictures on their Twitter page of their team and outreach programs, so we’ve asked them to share some of their experiences in robotics …

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Droids 01Our first exposure to robotics was in 2010 when we decided to visit a FIRST LEGO League tournament at the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC). We were excited by what we saw and, the next summer, we purchased an NXT LEGO Mindstorms kit and learnt to program using Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy’s NXT Video Trainer.

We haven’t stopped since! In 2011, we started our own neighborhood-based robotics team with eight other friends. We have participated in FIRST LEGO League as well as VEX IQ contests since then. You can read more about us on our team website (www.droidsrobotics.org).

Benefits of Robotics:

Droids 02Participating in robotics has taught us several programming languages, as well as general computer science skills and presentation skills. We now code in NXT-G, EV3-G, ROBOTC, Python and HTML as a direct result of robotics. We are comfortable interviewing experts as well as being interviewed about our work.

We use these skills outside of robotics contests to create webpages, and make online tools and programming tutorials. We even developed a robot in Minecraft that uses Python code to complete tasks. One sDroids 03ummer, we participated in a 24-hour coding contest called Code Extreme. For that event, we created a bicycle renting system using a Raspberry Pi and an RFID reader.

Robotics has taken us to some interesting places: the inside of a Smart House for seniors, under the hood of an airplane engine, and even to a sulfur dioxide sensor manufacturing plant. These field trips have shown us many different STEM careers we might choose from.

Spreading our love for robotics:

We do many robotics outreach activities all year round. We have been invited to teach other students at the Carnegie Science Center and four local libraries in the Pittsburgh area. At these events, we try to introduce students to LEGO Mindstorms, VEX IQ, EV3-G, and ROBOTC. Kids are naturally attracted to robots, and our hands-on workshops have been very popular. In September 2014, we expanded this outreach beyond Pittsburgh by teaching students around the world to program robots using our own lessons and website (EV3Lessons.com).

Challenges of Robotics:

The biggest challenge in robotics is probably robot reliability – getting your robot to “behave” as you intend again and again. It takes both software and hardware solutions in combination to improve reliability. To add to this problem, contest environments are often very different from practice environments. Kids who don’t have access to good programming lessons like the ones provided by ROBOTC, CS2N, Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy’s EV3 Trainer, and EV3Lessons.com often feel frustrated.

Droids 04The challenges in robotics are not problems you cannot solve. They are part of what makes robotics interesting for us. They teach us to come up with different techniques as solutions. They also teach us patience and perseverance!

Overall, robotics has given us opportunities and skills that we might not have discovered otherwise. The greatest opportunity from robotics is finding out what all a robot can do! People some times think that a child’s robot “can only do so much”. We have found that it can lead to learning a lot of advanced programming techniques.

Robotics has opened up a world of possibilities for us. We especially like sharing these possibilities with other people we meet at our workshops and demos.

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You can find more information about their team here: www.droidsrobotics.org and on their programming lessons here: www.ev3lessons.com.

Written by Cara Friez

March 24th, 2015 at 6:45 am

Getting Started with ROBOTC Graphical for EV3!

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EV3 ROBOTCAre you interested in learning how to program in ROBOTC Graphical for LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 or EV3 Robot Virtual Worlds? If so, then this YouTube playlist is for you! This set of videos will help you to get started programming with ROBOTC.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

These videos are part of the Introduction to Programming EV3 Curriculum. To continue further with our free online training, visit our curriculum page here! http://www.education.rec.ri.cmu.edu/previews/ev3_products/robotc_ev3_curriculum/

Written by Cara Friez

March 20th, 2015 at 6:30 am

Getting Started with ROBOTC Graphical for VEX IQ!!

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IQ ROBOTCAre you interested in learning how to program in ROBOTC Graphical for VEX IQ or VEX IQ Robot Virtual Worlds? If so, then this YouTube playlist is for you! This set of videos will help you to get started programming with ROBOTC.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

These videos are part of the Introduction to Programming VEX IQ Curriculum! To continue further with our free online training, visit our curriculum page here! http://www.education.rec.ri.cmu.edu/previews/robot_c_products/teaching_rc_vex_iq/

Written by Cara Friez

March 19th, 2015 at 6:45 am

Updated VEX CORTEX Video Trainer!!

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VEX Cortex Video UpdateWe are so excited to share the latest web design update for our VEX CORTEX Video Trainer! This includes all of our previous videos and materials, but in an easy to follow new format.

The VEX CORTEX Video Trainer is a multimedia curriculum that features lessons for the VEX CORTEX Microcontroller, which can also be applied to the older VEX PIC Microcontroller 0.5. It includes in-depth programming lessons for ROBOTC, multi-faceted engineering challenges, step-by-step videos, robotic support material, educational resources, and more! Check it out today and let us know what you think!

 
 
 
 
 

Written by Cara Friez

March 18th, 2015 at 6:30 am

China ROBOTC Teams Advanced to World Championship!

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IMG_8324Two of China ROBOTC high school VEX teams (3288A and 3288B) earned their 2014-15 VEX World Championship tickets on Singapore South Programming Skill Challenge on Feb 27. With power ROBOTC programming software, team 3288B tied with Singapore Champion team and team 3288A advanced to VEX World Champion with Asia’s best programming score. China ROBOTC’s middle and elementary school teams earned spots to Louisville as well!

Two High School Teams:
3288A: #1 in Asia ; #14 in world ranking
3288B: #2 in Asia ; #24 in world ranking

Mid School Team:
10790: #1 in Asia ; #5 in world ranking

Elementary School Teams:
10579: #1 in Asia ; #4 in world ranking
10689: #2 in Asia ; #12 in world ranking

 

China ROBOTC, in cooperate with Shaanxi Science and Technology Department, is also jump starting a new robotic competition platform under the name of “iSTEMn”! iSTEMn provides opportunities for members worldwide to collaborate and innoIMG_8418vate in the STEM arena. iSTEMnetwork promotes new levels of educational achievement and economic productivity. iSTEMn robotic competition is a K-14 event and students are divided into 4 different age groups: elementary; middle; high schools and colleges. iSTEMn robotic competition features all ROBOTC supported hardware platforms: VEX; LEGO and Makeblock as well as the RVW competition.

After this two days event, students are learning robotic at their schools and preparing for Shaanxi province tournament at the end of 2015. The winning teams will advance to China National Championship in Beijing early 2016. The winning teams with national title are going to California to compete with US teams for the iSTEM Robotic World Championship in late 2016.

Written by Cara Friez

March 16th, 2015 at 6:35 am

Best #ROBOTC Twitter Posts – 2nd Edition

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We LOVE getting Twitter posts sent to us about ROBOTC. In the last few months, you have shared some great posts and pictures with us. We decided to make a second compilation of some of our favorites to share here…

Do you have a ROBOTC picture/video/post you would like to share with us on Twitter? If so, include #ROBOTC or @ROBOTC in your message.

Written by Cara Friez

February 27th, 2015 at 10:56 am

A Teacher’s POV: RVW VEX IQ Beltway

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Beltway2Jason McKenna, from the Hopewell Area School District outside of Pittsburgh, PA, writes about his experience in the classroom with the new Robot Virtual World game, VEX IQ Beltway. Check it out below …

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The new VEX IQ virtual game Beltway is a great way to challenge your students to apply the basics of ROBOTC programming while also asking them to come up with unique strategies to try to score as many points in the 2 minute game as possible. My students just spent about 3 weeks working on the challenge and trying to score the highest score as possible. The students had an absolute blast and as a teacher, it was great seeing all the different ways the students tried to tackle this completely open-ended challenge.

Beltway4The objective in Beltway is the same as VEX IQ Highrise: program your VEX IQ robot to autonomously score as many cubes as possible during a 2 minute period. With Beltway, a conveyor belt has been added around the perimeter of the game field in order to assist with game play. Additionally, the virtual environment utilizes “magic stacking” meaning that the cubes automatically jump onto the stack when they are placed onto of the stacking cube regardless of the apparent size of the robot. The conveyor belt reduces the accumulation of error, where, for example, a robot’s slight error in one turn becomes a larger error when the robot repeats that same turn 4 or 5 times. Any time students attempt a long program with many different elements they will at some point become frustrated with the accumulation of error that occurs. Magic stacking and the large margin of error that enables easy pickup of cubes eliminates any frustration that the students may encounter as try to pick up cubes and then stack them. These elements of gameplay in Beltway allow students to focus on their strategy, and it also allows them to try to experiment with many different scoring methods because they are not spending a lot of time programming perfect 90 degree turns and aligning their robots perfectly to pick up a cube. You can click here for a more extensive list of rules and information about gameplay!

Beltway1Beltway comes with a variety of sample programs that students can use to help them get started or as a reference as they adjust their strategies. For example, if students decided that they wanted to control the conveyer belt manually, they could refer to a sample program to see how that is done. I did that many times while monitoring the students. After a few days, the students aren’t repeatedly raising their hands; instead, they just refer to the sample programs for guidance.

The game also served as a great tool to teach beginning programmers the utility of comments. Oftentimes, beginners don’t make programs quite as long as the ones they will make for Beltway. Students quickly saw the need to point out what was going on in their code with comments so they could go back to those sections and make whatever adjustments they wanted as they progressed with their gameplay.

As I stated earlier, my students had a lot of fun while playing Beltway. It is not easy to keep students’ interest level high in an activity that takes 3 weeks. The students maintained their level of interest and they consistently asked to stay after school to work on their programs some more. We had an in-class competition where the students ran their final programs. The winning team scored the winning points as the timer, literally, went to zero. It was pandemonium in my room. Kids were high-fiving each other, cheering, and remarking at how awesome the competition turned out. Students were also talking about the different strategies that the other teams used and how they could change their programs based upon what they had just seen.

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So now, of course, the students want to play some more. This is great because now I can use that as an opportunity to show students how they can take some of the code that they used over and over again (for example, picking up cubes) and show them how they can use full ROBOTC to turn those behaviors into functions. Beltway has proven to be both a great teaching and learning tool in my classroom.

Click here to download the game!

- Jason McKenna

Cool Project: ColumnBot

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We recently asked a group of engineering students from the University of Aalborg in Denmark to write about their experience using ROBOTC on a recent project. Check it out below!

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A model of the robot we built.

A model of the robot we built.

Hi all! We are 6 software engineering students from the University of Aalborg in Denmark. As part of our Bachelor’s degree, we had to design and implement an embedded system, and we chose to design and implement a robot that would solve the Simultaneous Localization And Mapping (SLAM) problem. We called the robot ColumBot.

The hardware we were issued were LEGO NXT bricks and sensors as well as a few from MindSensors. MindSensors provided libraries for use with ROBOTC, which was one of the reasons why we ended up choosing ROBOTC as our IDE.

This shows the generated map for TestCourse.

This shows a map of the test course we ran.

Work in Aalborg is group-based and many of the other groups spent the first weeks trying to get their NXT bricks set up for the firmwares they were using, but ROBOTC allowed us to have the part of the project kept to a minimum. ROBOTC provided us with a strong and versatile tool in solving our project, and was of great help.

Using ROBOTC, we were able to implement a mapping robot with a drive queue, with enough memory for 100m2, as well as a particle filter to correct the inaccuracies that arose from sensing when mapping. All this functionality was scheduled using a real time scheduling scheme. We do not believe this would have been possible with some of the IDEs used by the other groups.

This shows a map of the test course we ran.

TestCourse map.

ROBOTC has its quirks, namely much of the documentation is faulty. [Editor’s Note: ROBOTC recently went through a complete documentation overhaul to address issues like these – take a look at our help docs here.] As the focus of our project was to fit as much functionality as possible into the limited space, this problem mainly arose with the sizes of different types, where the documentation deviated from the reality. But the community is fantastic and many answers to difficult questions were found in the forums during the project period. The most useful features in our project were the Bluetooth Communication and the Debug Stream, which allowed us to monitor the robot remotely and communicate with it.

We would recommend ROBOTC to anyone attempting a build of the same size as ours, but advice you to be wary and test things for yourself, because this was sometimes a problem for us.

Check out one of our test runs here:

Written by Cara Friez

February 23rd, 2015 at 11:01 am