View Full Version : Creating a "Robotics Lab" ...
04-15-2010, 12:45 PM
We are considering creating a "robotics lab" - a dedicated lab area, with 6 or so robot "kits", along with the requisite laptops and network. I'm interested in know whether other have created such an environment, the cost of purchasing the kit of parts, etc.
Our goal is to provide an environment where a team can work on projects as small (two person) groups, rather than the typical "everyone tries to work on a single CRIO/robot". We'd like to provide step-by-step tutorials, much like the Lego Mindstorms tutorials, where a plain vanilla robot is quickly constructed, then software developed to meet specific goals. A team might meet at this lab during normal business/school hours for a 1/2 day, and accomplish 4 tutorials.
We'd also like for this lab to be a "mentor spawning ground", where mentors can be mentored.
Additionally, we'd like for the robot "kits" to be available for mentors to checkout for overnight or weekend use.
One of my primary concerns is developing the curriculum - it seems like the tutorials would need to be well defined, which could take a lot of work. One thought is to make the development of tutorials a part of the prerequisites for area teams to produce in order to receive a financial grant for the coming season.
So, to start it off, is there a way to order a kit of parts that is really only parts, and doesn't also include FIRST registration fees, etc.
Anyone developed step-by-step FIRST FRC tutorials?
Has anyone else done something like this?
Does this sound like a dumb idea?
04-15-2010, 02:14 PM
I'd suggest that you check out VEX Robotics education section (http://www.vexrobotics.com/education). You want classroom kits and either the Autodesk or Carnegie-Mellon's Robotics Academy curriculum. Purchase some Plano Stow-n-Go boxes to put parts in to make them portable.
We do a similar thing for our mentor workshops, we just don't let the kits go home.
VEX robotics kits are used in a ton of schools, their market isn't the robot competition it's the schools. A nice side benefit is the VEX competitions. Lots and lots of "tech-ed" teachers use it, see the TSA info on their web site.
It's a good idea, keep us posted on how you make out!
04-15-2010, 02:34 PM
Sounds kind of like what we've got in our shop here at David Thompson.
Our school has the "traditional" shops... Auto, Wood, Metal, Drafting... but my shop is actually an old auto shop that has been converted for general technology use.
Over time we have managed to acquire five VEX kits, and supplement them to the point where each has sufficient motors and sensors to build a competitive VEX robot. We run one block (about 25 students) of Engineering 11, where the students build competition VEX robots as a group of five. I'd prefer smaller groups, but thats just a matter of buying an additional kit.
Just down the road, at Gladstone Secondary, they have taken this to the next level and have over 15 full kits of VEX and run four blocks of robotics in their Engineering 11 course.
We've also got the "single cRio robot", but we run our FRC team as a club, after school.
Generally we've found that students need very little in the way of tutorials. They respond much better to being given a challenge, and then guided individually, when their group reaches a "teachable moment". So sure, we cover torque, traction and stuff like that (http://botshop.wordpress.com/page/2/)from a theoretical perspective in lectures early in the year... but where they really learn it is when their arm won't lift, their robot tips over, or when they can't turn. Then they WANT to know why!
Training MENTORS, though... that's a little different. As adults we aren't quite as gung-ho about putting things together when we really don't know what we're doing. Adults tend to prefer a little more guidance, at least when we are getting started. AND... while you'll probably find lots of adults who are comfortable with structures, motors, gears and torque... and lots of adults who are comfortable with sensors and software.... the subset that combines those two skill sets is not nearly as great as we'd hope. So some people are going to need some mentoring with the software more than with the hardware... and vice versa.
I like the idea of having a mentor training workshop with structured tutorials to get people started and the opportunity to sign out kits to take home. (That way they can take them home and have their kids show them how to make it all work.) We've leveraged our existing infrastructure by hosting a multi-day mentor training workshop (http://botshop.wordpress.com/2009/06/30/vex-workshop-outline/)at the end of the school year. It worked really well... just remember that once the mentors get over their initial hesitation that they are going to want to play and "get creative" with the kits, too. Don't structure so much tutorial work that you squeeze out the fun stuff.
So... to answer some specific questions:
1) To order a "kit of parts" without registration fees... its really easy with VEX (www.vexrobotics.com). That's how they are sold. With the FTC Tetrix system, check out Pitsco's site (http://shop.pitsco.com/store/default.aspx?CategoryID=8&pl=19&searchtype=0&by=9&sport=3&c=1&t=0&l=2). Don't assume all "kits" are equal, though... you have to read carefully to see what is included with each kit.
2) There is lots of curriculum available. http://www.vexrobotics.com/education/curriculum and http://www.education.rec.ri.cmu.edu/roboticscurriculum/ are two sites you might want to look at. Just google "robotics curriculum" and you'll find more. Frankly, I've found that by the time students start building, they are too busy learning for me to do much "teaching", though.
3) If you're looking to have FRC "kits" available, the cRio can be purchased independently, and almost all KoP items are available from vendors such as AndyMark.
Finally, whatever you do... make sure you have space to set up an appopriate space for the robots to drive, play and compete. During the VEX season we've got a home-made replica of a VEX playing field in the back of our shop, and for FRC, we lay out the carpet and field elements in our cafeteria in the evenings. Having a standardized test environment is crucial for evaluating designs and learning to assess strengths and weaknesses.
Good luck, and have fun with it,
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