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Student POV: Labyrinth Challenge

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We are really excited to introduce a new blog series called Student POV! This series will feature students giving their perspective and advice for programming in ROBOTC. If you’re a student who would like to contribute to the blog, let us know at socialmedia@robotc.net. Welcome our first student bloggers, Danica and Jake!

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Hi it’s Danica and Jake, and we just completed the Labyrinth Challenge. We are both 8th grade students attending Hopewell Memorial Junior High. We both used VEX IQ Graphical Programming Language to complete this challenge since it is a new software recently released by ROBOTC. The first challenge we had to accomplish was the labyrinth challenge. The labyrinth is a square, where the robot has to travel from the starting point, to the ending point by doing a series of basic commands.

#1

Our first task was to make our robot move forward.

#2

This block is telling the robot to go forward at 50% power for 5 rotations, but you can also set the robot to move for degrees, milliseconds, seconds, and minutes.

Our second task was to make the robot turn left.

#3

When turning left, you can use multiple commands such as degrees, rotations, milliseconds, seconds, and minutes. You can also use this for turning right.

One problem while programming for this challenge was making 90 degree turns. To get a perfect 90 degree turn, with timing, you had to go through a lot of trial and error. After figuring out the perfect turns, based on timing, the time for moving forward, and the stops to prevent drifts, we had to string all the commands together to form the program for the challenge. This what the finished program looks like:

#4

An easier way to perform more accurate turns, is with the use of the gyro sensor. The gyro sensor allows you to count how many degrees you turn. This simply means that you can actually tell the robot to make an accurate turn. You also have to remember to reset the gyro after every use, and it will make this program a lot easier.

To reset the gyro you have to use this block:

#5

The finished program with the gyro sensor looks like this:

#6

In this program we used the setMotor command instead of turnLeft or turnRight. This command is better to use in the while loop since you only have to set the speed of the motor. The condition in the while loop determines how long the robot turns. As a result, we just need to set the motor speed with the setMotor command.

A cool feature you can use in RobotC is commenting out your code. You can also do this in the VEX IQ Graphical Organizer. It is much easier though since you only have to click the number on the block of code you want to comment out.

Commenting looks like this:

#7

These comments allow you to test only one turn out of the whole code, which is very useful during the trial and error stage.
Now it is time to go try the Labyrinth challenge on your own, either with or without the gyro sensor. Have fun!

 
 

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Written by Cara Friez

March 19th, 2014 at 4:29 pm

A Teacher’s POV: Fun With VEX IQ Remote Controls

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Whether they are in elementary school, middle school, or high school, students really enjoy programming their robots with remote controls. Luckily, the VEX IQ wireless controller allows you to do just that. ROBOTC allows you to create your own remote control programs to customize each joystick axis and button controls. Moreover, you can use both Natural Language and full ROBOTC with the remote controls.

Both the VEX IQ brain and the remote control require a radio controller for communication. The radio controller has to be in each in order to use the remote control. Additionally, a battery needs to be placed into the remote control for the wireless communication. Just like the battery for the VEX IQ brain, the battery for the remote control is rechargeable.

Vex Remote 1In order for the VEX IQ brain and the controller to communicate, they must be paired together. With both devices turned off, connect the two devices together with the tether cable that is included with the VEX IQ Starter Kit with Controller. The tether cable is just a standard Ethernet cable. Turn on the VEX IQ brain by pressing the check button. The controller will automatically link and pair with the VEX IQ brain.

Once your connection has been established, the green light will blink on both the remote control and the VEX IQ brain. You will not have to link the tether cable with the remote control the next time you turn on the VEX IQ brain or the remote control. In the classroom, you can assign each robot to a remote control by giving each a number. That way, you never have to link the remote control with the VEX IQ brain. Or, you can just have the students do a quick set up at the beginning of class. Either way will work.

ROBOTC can access all of the data from the VEX IQ remote control by referencing the button and axes by their described names. Joystick buttons return values of..

• 1 – Pressed
• 0 – Not Pressed/Released

Joystick Axis return values of…
• -100 to +100 (0 when centered)

Vex Remote 2 Vex Remote 3

When using the VEX IQ remote control, make sure you switch to your “Controller Mode” to Tele-Op.

Vex Remote 4

Alright, now you can begin programming (either in Natural Language or full ROBOTC) and have some fun.

Remote controlAs teachers, we all know to expect the unexpected. I recently had the students on a Friday, with a long weekend in front of them. Therefore, I did not want to start a new concept, for I would have to re-teach it after the long weekend. So, I decided to set up a quick in-class competition with the VEX IQ Challenge Field and some Bucky Balls and rings.

I allowed the students to make up the parameters for the game, gave them some time to devise some strategy, downloaded some sample programs to run the remote controls, and let the fun begin. The students had a great time and the activity will serve as a springboard for future investigation into how to customize the remote control programs.

– Jason McKenna

 
 

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Written by Cara Friez

February 4th, 2014 at 9:55 am

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:

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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);
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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);
}
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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:
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setRobotType(VexIQClawbot);
More robot models will be supported in future releases.
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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!

 

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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

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.

mantis-cutout-300x275

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