Toymaker Lego said today it is entering into a collaboration that could bring robotics education to children in elementary schools. The collaboration’s members – which include National Instruments, Carnegie Mellon University, Tufts University, Vernier Software and Technology, and Lego -- want to employ Lego’s well-known Mindstorms toys as a means of educating kids.
“We’re trying to take this technology to the next level and use it to introduce robotic education into schools,” noted Jens Maibom, general manager of Lego Education in Billund, Denmark.Lego Mindstorms serves as the collaboration’s key learning tool because it has already developed a following among kids, teens, and even some adults. The most recent version of Mindstorms, unveiled a week ago, includes a 32-bit microcontroller and National Instruments programming software.
Each of the collaboration’s other members will also play key roles in bringing robotics to schools. Carnegie Mellon developed the curriculum for Lego Mindstorms Education NXT; Tufts’ Center for Engineering Educational Outreach has spent 10 years fashioning a program that puts engineers into classrooms to help teachers; and Vernier produces sensors, software, and curricula for teachers.
Members of the collaboration, appearing in a panel discussion at National Instruments’ NIWeek in Austin, TX, this week, said they are targeting young children, especially in grades two through six, with their program. At a press event, three grade-school-aged kids discussed their efforts to build a Mindstorms robot that swings a small golf club. The children are second-, fourth- and sixth-graders.Panel members said that an interest in science is more likely to take hold in most children before adolescence. Prior to adolescence, they said, most kids exhibit a curiosity of the physical world. After adolescence, that curiosity transforms to a “social curiosity,” they said. All panel members said that the program’s goal is to add spark enthusiasm among kids. “Our specific goal is not necessarily to produce more engineers, but to reduce engineering phobia,” said Chris Rogers of Tufts University. “We are trying to make it so that kids aren’t afraid of science and engineering.”
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For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.