Time for a cool surprise: I’m letting one of the Secret Plans out.
Today was pretty low-key (projects at home, and some time spent with our smart fun neighbors, discussing things which must remain secret).
So new rule: Any time I have a low-key day with no photos or dangerous activities, I’ll shed light on one of the items in the Secret Plans list.
Secret Plan #31: Wacky Robot Races
What if you could teach robotics concepts to a second-grade class? It turns out you can. In 1997 and 1998, I was the “robot guy” at the El Granada Elementary School science day. Afterward, I set up this website as a contact point for anyone who had follow-up questions.
Having no kids doesn’t get you out of science fair duty, unless you also have no neighbors.
The first year, I modified Buggo, a robot I had already built. I set him up with a system where 16 kids can drive at once, democratically.
I also brought Max, and old Hero 1 robot, and disassembled him for the class, showing all of his parts and talking about what they’re for.
Lessons learned year 1:
- Having kids shout out “Left! Right!” is less effective if they’re not all clear on which is which.
- Robots can malfunction, but kids can too.
- Keep the activities simple. Sixteen kids driving one robot are not sixteen times as efficient as one kid driving a robot.
- Have a spare robot handy.
- Rechargeable batteries are great for normal robot use, but use alkalines for special events like this. They last longer, and you can replace them easily.
- If there is any way to make it operate without a tether, it’s a really good idea.
- Teachers have the hardest jobs in the world.
The second year, I built three brand new robots, Pluggo, Cricket 1 and Cricket 2. These were all “light seekers”; shine a flashlight at them, and they’ll rush toward you (or away from you, depending on the setting).
Lessons learned year 2:
- Kids really love flashlights. Don’t pass them out until you’re ready to start.
- Talk first, then play. The two cannot be done in reverse order.
- Teachers really do have the hardest jobs in the world.
Where are they now?
- The kids: It’s eleven years later, so I guess all of those little kids are over 18. Yikes! Hopefully their memories of the Wacky Robot Races are as fond as mine.
- The robots: Cricket 1 and Cricket 2 are dusty, but in good shape. They might even work. Buggo and Pluggo have long since had most of their important parts borrowed for other projects. Max needs a tune-up.
Here’s what they all look like today:
Buggo’s original brain is missing. I can’t remember which project it ended up in. It’s here somewhere.
Cricket 1 and Cricket 2 probably still work. They were built in about a week, and their “brain” is really no more than a set of hardwired reflexes, based on a circuit board I etched in the bathroom sink at home.
Tip: Getting a home-built robot to tell her she’s beautiful works better then you’d think.
Random assertion: If you ever give 30 kids 30 flashlights, expect to lose control of the situation immediately.
Steganographic data: 1880/0.4