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Posts Tagged ‘robots’

  1. Introduction to Robotics – an exercise in thinking

    November 6, 2014 by Robin Englebright

    A long time ago in a galaxy far far away I used to get paid for designing robots. I had a hand in designing Mr Psyches, Growler and Cassisus Chrome for Robotwars, worked on the look and feel of the Destructoids for the tv series “Mechanoids”, and made a comic to pitch the idea for an ITV series called Rescue Robots.

    With my then youthful children I was also a competitor in RW S5,6 and 7 with our Robot Killer Carrot.

    Today I got the chance to revisit the area of Robot Design when I taught a class of 17 University of Brighton D&T and Computing teacher trainees about elementary robotics.
    We aimed to cover some of the key areas in the National Curriculum for D&T and computing, and managed to hit most … with more or less success.


    KS3 Technical Knowledge -understand and use the properties of materials and the performance of structural elements to achieve functioning solutions -understand how more advanced mechanical systems used in their products enable changes in movement and force

    -understand how more advanced electrical and electronic systems can be powered and used in their products [for example, circuits with heat, light, sound and movement as inputs and outputs] -apply computing and use electronics to embed intelligence in products that respond to inputs [for example, sensors], and control outputs [for example, actuators], using programmable components [for example, microcontrollers].


    We started by discussing inputs, logic and outputs – looked at discrete components – reed switches, thermsistors, LDRs, LEDs, Is LEDs, and thought about how various systems might work by creating top trumps cards detailing:
    logic, inputs, outputs, cost, reliability, speed
    for – a garage door opener, a plant waterer,a burglar alarm, a cat feeder, a lunar lander and a mars orbiter… and discovered that whilst there may be differences in costs and reliability, the inputs and outputs and logic are pretty similar for each of these setups.
    As a group we then looked at a simple PICAXE BOT120  running a line follower program, and drew a flowchart for the processes and worked how they mapped to the actual code.

    '## Adapted from the Bot120 manual by: Willem van Heerden ##
    '## bugfixes and alterations by Rob Englebright##
    '## initial sensor calibration setup white = 10 black tape = 67
    Init: 'Initiation Label
     Symbol Left_Bumper = pinC.1 'Left Bumper Input Pin
     Symbol Right_Bumper = pinC.3 'Right Bumper Input Pin
     Symbol Line_Tracker = 8 'Line Tracker Input Pin
     Symbol Mid_Level = 30 'Custom Calibrated
     Symbol Track_Value = b0 'Line Tracker reading
     If Left_Bumper=1 or Right_Bumper=1 then 'If it bumps then...
     halt A 'Stop Motor A
     halt B 'Stop Motor B
     readadc Line_Tracker, Track_Value 'Read Value
     If Track_Value > Mid_Level Then 'Evaluate Reading 
     Forward A 'Run Motor A forward
     Halt B 'Stop Motor B
     Halt A 'Stop Motor A
     Forward B 'Run Motor B forward
     End If
     End If
     Goto Main

    We then tried to run the flowchart application, and the fancy logicator and everything went horribly wrong.

    So we switched to the ever reliable LEGO NXT,  and started looking at how we could decompose a problem – in this case the rules for SUMO ROBOTS – and build functional SUMO bots.

     “Lego Sumo unlimited height, 15.0 cm width, 15.0 cm length,  1,000 g weight.

    Any method of control may be used, as long as it is fully contained within the robot and recieves no external signals or directions (human, machine, or otherwise). Autonomous robot operation must begin automatically no less than five seconds after being started by the user. Robots starting before the five second mark forfeit that Yuhkoh point.

    We had four working NXT units (mine died gracefully after demonstrating the variation on the line follower code) so the students worked in groups of about 4 to analyse the challenge, design a strategy – draw a flowchart and then write the code… or drag and drop the icons in the Mindstorms application.

    I gave the teams a starter code based on the line follower code, but switching the “dark detector” for a “light detector” to match the black Sumo ring arena and it’s white boundary line.


    Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 19.34.55

    ….and the teams went at it, looping through the code, testing and re-testing adding “hair” and labels and extending their weapons with taped on pens.

    The debugging of code was frantic, and the pressure grew as we approached the contest.
    We ran 2 heats, a final and 3 rd place heat which resulted in real excitement and shouting and cheering… a fitting end to the day.


     Learning technology isn’t just VLE’s and commercial software, sometimes it’s a cute little robot.

    If you are interested in using microelectronics in your teaching there are plenty of places that can help… At UoB contact me… elsewhere:

    STEM ambassadors – Based at UoB –
    First Lego League- International –
    (FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).)
    CodeClub (9-11-
    CoderDojo (7-17
    NodeBots- Javascipt for robots

    and don’t forget you local Hackspace… I can of course reccomend BuildBrighton … but there are others all across the UK… and indeed the world:

  2. You are spoiling us Ambassador …. (STEM)

    January 10, 2014 by Robin Englebright


    Prompted by @katiepiatt I signed up to be a STEM Ambassador, and rocked up to the induction session yesterday.
    Basically being a STEM Ambassador sounds like ALL the fun bits I used to enjoy as a teacher, without any of the bother of admin, paperwork, assessment and class control.
    There are nearly 30,000 STEM Ambassadors in the UK, 1100 in Sussex alone, and the Sussex folk undertook 700 activities last year, which culminate in a big Crawley STEMfest in June and July (and coveniently just down the road from me) and BIG BANG Sussex.
    I went along to the induction feeling pretty full of myself (as per usual) and have to say I was pretty humbled by the stuff the other prospect-Ambassadors were into.
    One guy had built the Olympics Velodrome, another worked on High Voltage systems across the South East, including giant wind turbines… I can code a little bit.
    Anyway the CRB (or whatever it’s replacement is called) is underway, and in a few weeks I should be able to start volunteering. There’s a regular bi-weekly newsletter that identifies areas where schools want volunteers, and there are a couple of interesting antweight robotics sessions that are quite local. I haven’t built an ant weight since 2000, guessing the tech has changed a bit in the mean time.

    I will report my progress.


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