It’s always difficult for me to get back into blogging after a short break. I find that my mind comes up with ideas more often when I’m in the classroom teaching, and not taking a break, visiting relatives, or running errands. I digress though, as I’ve found just the jump-start I needed to get going this week: Robot Dreams.
No, it’s not some science fiction fan site dedicated to the late Mr. Asimov, it’s a blog dedicated to bringing the masses what they’ve always craved; streaming videos of robots falling down, performing kung-fu moves, jumping on one foot, and generally doing everything a robot couldn’t and would never do in one of those old 50s era B-movies (sorry Gort). From humanoid robots displaying carefully articulated martial arts moves to robo-puppies learning how to negotiate ledges without falling, this blog is a really great way to get any student excited with robotics and/or engineering. Not that students need much encouragement when you mention robots, but with the number of US students graduating with science and math degrees ever shrinking, anything that can be done to encourage the pursuit of mathematics, computers, programming, and science is a boon.
Many of the robots in the videos are available commercially, are relatively easy to assemble, and can be programmed using a Logo like interface on a PC (remember that happy little drawing turtle?). The price tag on many of them might be a bit daunting however. One of the most popular commercially available programmable robots on the market today (and it’s geared towards education) is the Robonova-I, retailing for about $1500 on most internet retail sites. While that price might be a bit difficult to swallow there are plenty of grants and resources available to help pursue using such technology in the classroom. If you don’t think that price is attainable, you can always go with the much less financially draining Lego Mindstorm robotics kit. The next generation of Mindstorms (called NXT) is actually getting ready for release and provides many of the same functions as the higher priced robots. I know that cyberschilling is planning on looking into grant money to get some Lego Mindstorms for her school’s technology lab, so hopefully she’ll have more to say about robotics in the classroom this coming fall. Personally, I think building and manipulating robots would be perfect for talking about how simple machines interact with one another to form a complex machine, or what sort of mathematical equations are required in order for the robot to remain balanced while moving.
Special thanks to Lynne Wolters over at CU-Online for mentioning this site.