Sunday, November 10, 2019

Robots and Programming with micro:bit: Build an ArtBot!

By this point in the kids' Robotics and Programming study, they've got a good understanding of the Sense-Think-Act definition of a robot, and they've spent a lot of time exploring sensors, effectors, and circuits.

Clearly, it's now time to build something that combines several elements into a functioning bot!

This activity, in which the kids are going to build a working bot, meets Step 3 of the Girl Scout Senior Programming Robots badge. For this step, the kids are using these components, given to us for free by a publicist (note the Amazon Affiliate links there!):

The micro:bit has the controller, and the micro:bot kit includes more components, like alligator clips, wheels, and a battery pack, that you need to actually build something.

Will decided to build an ArtBot, a machine that will draw a programmed path. You can make some really elaborate creations with the ArtBot, but Will was prepping the ArtBot to present at our STEM Fair, and she wanted something fairly quick and simple for the bot to draw that would be easy to demonstrate and easy for other kids to engage with.

Circles it is, then!

Look at all its guts that Will is assembling!

Cleverly, the instructions suggested that she turn the box that the micro:bot kit came in inside out and use that for the ArtBot's housing:

By this point in the robotics study, the kids have built tons of circuits that utilize sensors and effectors, and they've played with lots of already functioning robots and machines, and they've even built a working hydraulic arm out of upcycled cardboard, but this is the first time that they've had to muscle together something so complete. Syd worked on it for a while, then Will took over and did a lot of problem-solving and troubleshooting, and was extra stoked when she finally figured out how it all goes together.

And then she got to program it! You can program in Python if you know how, but you can also use block programming, which probably every kid is familiar with thanks to Scratch. Will is ALL ABOUT the block programming:

And then she got to troubleshoot and problem-solve some more!

This one is kind of right...

Will is lying about how many trials she's done; the only thing she changed for this trial is giving ArtBot a bigger piece of paper!

Syd took a turn and got the pressure problem with the marker sorted out, and discovered that ArtBot draws much bigger and lovelier circles when you tape the markers to the front of its housing:

By the morning of the STEM Fair, the kids had ArtBot behaving more or less perfectly, and had figured out the optimum condition for its performance--basically, give it BIG paper and lots of room!

Look at those perfect circles!

The other attendees at the STEM Fair also seemed to enjoy playing with ArtBot, and a very, very, VERY many circles were made.

In the next part of our study, the kids are going to move onto thinking about how form affects function, and how one might go about designing a robot to perform a specific task or solve a specific problem. Then, they'll be tasked with creating a working model of a robot that can perform a task or solve a problem, and that will probably be ArtBot's next iteration,  as the kids disassemble it and utilize micro:bit in some new way.

I'll be eager to see what they come up with!

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