OZOBOT – Interesting Yet Puzzling Robot Game Piece and Educational Toy

 

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When we first heard about OZOBOT, a little over a year ago, all the buzz was about this new robot game piece that would make a dramatic difference in the gaming world. Then, very shortly thereafter, all the press and promotion switched to OZOBOT being a new and innovative way for young learners to learn the basics of programming/coding.

After spending a few days getting to know OZOBOT, our conclusion is that OZOBOT is both, and it is neither. It occupies a specific niche, almost an island, where it delivers significant value and can be highly recommended. Beyond that niche, it really isn’t clear, at least not yet, how far OZOBOT can be expanded or adopted to provide more of an extended learning experience.

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OZOBOT’s design is quite innovative. It’s tiny, yet packs a lot of technology inside a body that’s just a little bigger than our thumb. In a nutshell, which is a strangely apt reference since the relative size is the same, OZOBOT is a line follower robot with two small drive wheels and a sensor array on the bottom. As it follows line paths, different color segments tell it to change behavior. The overall concept is very simple and straight forward. Students create paths with different colored segments, either with marking pens or by using their fingers to draw the lines and segments on an iPad or Android tablet. This enables them to quickly grasp the basic concept of programming and coding.

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OZOBOT also provides visual feedback. For example, when it passes over a blue colored line segment, one of the robots LEDs glows blue. Students can change the robots mode using a button located on one side of the body.

All line follower robots require some sensor calibration since the operating environments and lighting can vary greatly. For OZOBOT, you just use the mode button to put the robot into calibration mode, a white LED will flash indicating it’s ready to be calibrated, then you place it on the provided calibration card. After a few seconds the LED flashes green, and you’re good to go.

In addition to preprinted line paths and some examples students can use to create their own, the company also supports several different smartphone/tablet applications for both iOS and ANDROID.

One application simulates the line creation process on screen. Actually, we prefer using this app over hand drawing lines since during our tests we were able to achieve much more consistent results that way. However, very young students may prefer the hand drawing method and may find it much more engaging and fun. A second application combines music and rhythm with the robots motions - kind of like a robot disco performance. It’s a fun app, especially for demonstrating the robot, but might get old in a hurry.

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OZOBOT’s price is relatively low, typically less than USD$50 for one robot or under USD$100 for the special dual set package. Keep in mind that the robot is non-repairable, at least for anyone with less know-how and skill than an Ultra-Geek, and the built-in battery can’t be replaced. Once the robot breaks, or the battery wears out, you’ll have a cute little paperweight - which isn’t all bad.

So, where does OZOBOT fit in the larger scheme of things? It doesn’t appear to have gained traction as a robot game piece, at least we weren’t able to locate any commercial games that have adopted the technology.

On the other hand, many educators have incorporated the robot into their entry level programs. It seems like a natural fit to kickstart students into the core elements of programming and robotics. What isn’t clear is what the next natural learning step for the students should be. How do they transfer the learning and expand on it? At this point that seems to be a decision for each individual teacher or educator.

Via: Robotic Toys | Robotics | OZOBOT #robotsdreams
More information at Robots Dreams

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Queensland University of Technology Offers Free Online Robotics Courses

QUT Open online learning

More and more universities are offering Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) where anyone, anywhere in the world, can benefit from exactly the same courseware and resources as local students. Of course, they have to have relatively high speed internet access. Typically these courses are free, though some require a minimal charge.

For example, Queensland University of Technology in Australia will be offering two information rich courses in robotics early in 2015. Introduction to Robotics covers the world of robots along with the necessary underlying mathematics and algorithms, while Robotic Vision  explores computer vision in robot designs and applications. Instructor for both courses will be Professor Peter Corke.  

Via: QUT - Open online learning #robotsdreams
More information at Robots Dreams

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World Maker Faire 2013: Robot & Electronic Learning Systems – Editorial

robot

One of the things that struck me at the World Maker Faire was how many companies are trying to reinvent or improve on older projects, especially in the STEM/learning sector.

More years ago than I care to remember, I had Erector Sets, chemistry sets, and electronic experiment sets. Although they would be considered primitive by today's standards, they achieved their purpose - which was to engage and inspire young kids to get involved with technology through experimentation.

I built cars, tanks, cranes, and even a very crude walking robot. I also managed, somehow, to totally evacuate the house doing a chemistry experiment that involved heating sulphur in a spoon over a candle to see how it turned into a liquid. My parents weren't pleased, and I'm sure it took a lot of work before my mother was able to rid the house of the burnt rotten egg smell.

The electronic experiment set was the most intriguing and had the most lasting impact by far, even though the set was just a few dozen components arrayed on a thick board with springs for contacts, some jumper wires, and a very cheap headset. I remember putting together a simple burglar alarm, a light sensor, a Morse code key, and a crystal radio.

That experience triggered my interest so much that I started making regular visits to the library checking out back issues of magazines and books on electronic circuits. And I would collect old radios, TVs, and other gear to disassemble so that I could use the components to hack together some of the more interesting circuits I discovered in the books.

There were no electronics classes or clubs in my junior high school and later in my high school, though they did have wood and metal shop classes. So, using library books and magazines I taught myself whatever I needed to learn to put together the devices I wanted to make.

I'm not bragging, and I'm not suggesting that kids today should be forced to go through the same process. It was difficult, often frustrating, and there were many times when I almost gave up completely because I either couldn't understand something and there was no one around to help, or because the parts I needed just weren't available - or cost way to much for my limited allowance.

At the same time, I think we may be doing young kids a disservice by making things way too easy for them. When we simplify the learning process, and we try to remove any frustration or stress, then then we are 'dumbing down' the process - degrading the value that it gives to the student learner.

So many of the STEM type systems I've seen try to design out any difficulty or challenge out of the process. They often treat a project as if it was assembling furniture from IKEA dressed up with a bit of science or engineering.

Electronic and robot kits become niche market video game clones focused on instant gratification. "Plug this into that; connect this; turn on the battery; and you've created a functioning robot!" 

But, actually, you haven't 'created' or designed anything. You've just followed instructions like a robot.

The challenge is to create learning systems that not only reward and provide satisfaction but also force the student to create - to stress their mental muscles - and to solve problems in ways that they didn't already know.

Some of the systems out there do a fairly good job at it while others fail miserably. All of them, including the most well known systems, still have a lot of room for improvement - at least in my opinion.

robot kit

 

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