Educational Robot Teaches With Magnets And Servos

Teaching kids about robotics gives them valuable skills for their futures, and is generally pretty darn fun for all involved, too. However, teaching children often involves taking a bit of a different tack to educating college students, and more of a hand-holding approach is often needed. This robot project is an attempt to do just that, using some classic time-honored techniques and a unique method of propulsion.

The Magnetic Motion Robot, or MMR, is very much a DIY project. Built out of hand-cut plywood and assembled by lacing together individual modules, it’s a low-cost entry into the world of educational robotics. Rather than wheels or motors, it instead uses electromagnets mounted on servo arms to get around. Switching the magnets on and off, and moving the servos in time, allows the robot to pull itself along a ferromagnetic surface.

The robot is outfitted with buzzers and LEDs, and using these features creates further programming challenges for students. Naturally, there’s also a line-following program, which is a great way to begin educating kids about autonomous robot operations. It’s all run from an Arduino Nano, programmed with Makeblock’s special building-block programming software.

While its DIY nature makes assembly a little more involved than the average off-the-shelf kit, it does present its own learning opportunities such as soldering and the integration of hardware. Educational robots will continue to be popular and fun long into the future; we’re a particular fan of sumobots ourselves. Video after the break.

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Educational Robot For Under $100

While schools have been using robots to educate students in the art of science and engineering for decades now, not every school or teacher can afford to put one of these robots in the hands of their students. For that reason, it’s important to not only improve the robots themselves, but to help drive the costs down to make them more accessible. The CodiBot does this well, and comes in with a price tag well under $100.

The robot itself comes pre-assembled, and while it might seem like students would miss out on actually building the robot, the goal of the robot is to teach coding skills primarily. Some things do need to be connected though, such as the Arduino and other wires, but from there its easy to program the robot to do any number of tasks such as obstacle avoidance and maze navigation. The robot can be programmed using drag-and-drop block programming (similar to Scratch) but can also be programmed the same way any other Arduino can be.

With such a high feature count and low price tag, this might be the key to getting more students exposed to programming in a more exciting and accessible way than is currently available. Of course, if you have a little bit more cash lying around your school, there are some other options available to you as well.

Nessie, The Educational Robot

At the Lifelong Learning Robotics Laboratory at the Erasmo Da Rotterdam in Italy, robots are (not surprisingly) used to teach all of the fundamentals of robotics. [Alessandro Rossetti] and the students at the lab have been at it for years now, and have finally finished their fifth generation of a robot called Nessie. The big idea is to help teach fundamentals of programming and electronics by building something that actually uses these principles.

The robot is largely 3D printed and uses an FPGA to interact with the physical world through a set of motors and sensors. The robot also uses a Raspberry Pi to hold the robot’s framework. The robot manages the sensors in hardware with readers attached to the CPU AXI bus. The CPU reads their values from memory space, though, so the robot is reported to be quite quick.

The lab is hoping to take their robot to a robotics competition in Bari, Italy. We hope that they perform well there, since we are big fans of any robot that’s designed to teach anyone about robotics and programming. After all, there are robots that help teach STEM in Africa, robots that teach teen girls about robots, and robots that teach everyone.

Hacking Helps Bring Educational Robot Projects In For A Few Dollars


Meet  [Dr. Thomas Tilley] and his robot Suckerbot which looks very much like a clear-plastic six-axis controller. His presentation at this year’s TEDxChiangMai is made of the stuff that makes us feel warm inside.

[Thomas] has been using joystick hacks to bring smiles to faces of kids in his part of Thailand. The video below covers some that he has done over the years. These include racing cockpits made out of PVC or bamboo which patch into a cheap joystick to control the action on a traditional gaming console. He’s also spun a different take on multiplayer Guitar Hero by splitting up the fret and strum actuators between several different kids.

But the main topic of his presentation is Lollybot, which is an Americanized version of its original moniker: Suckerbot. This was his entry into a 2012 contest which tasked hackers to build a robot that would cost under $10 to replicate in the classroom. That’s quite a challenge but he actually did it with enough to spare for a snack afterwards. Suckerbot is so named because he added a couple of candy suckers to the analog joysticks of a knock-off PlayStation controller. They act as inverted pendulums; when the robot runs into something the suckers shake which can be read by the computer controlling the robot. Food container lids wrapped with rubber act as wheels which are spun by the vibration motors from the joystick. And there’s even a set of line-following sensors built from photoresistors and some LEDs. His calculated cost? Just $8.96!

The hope is that robot projects stemming from this contest will help produce the next generation of hackers in Africa. If this stuff gets you excited you can take part. This year’s challenge deadline has been extended.

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Do Your Part To Stop The Robot Uprising

One of the pleasures of consuming old science fiction movies and novels is that they capture the mood of the time in which they are written. Captain Kirk was a 1960s guy and Picard was a 1990s guy, after all. Cold war science fiction often dealt with invasion. In the 1960s and 70s, you were afraid of losing your job to a computer, so science fiction often had morality tales of robots running amok, reminding us what a bad idea it was to give robots too much power. As it turns out, robots might be dangerous, but not for the reasons we thought. The robots won’t turn on us by themselves. But they could be hacked. To that end, there’s a growing interest in robot cybersecurity and Alias Robotics is releasing Alurity, a toolbox for robot cybersecurity.

Currently, the toolbox is available for Linux and MacOS with some support for Windows. It targets 25 base robots including the usual suspects. There’s a white paper from when the product entered testing available if you want more technical details.

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Autonomous Multi-Task Performing Robot

[Ruchir] has been pretty into robotics for a while now and has always been amused by the ever-popular obstacle avoiding robot, but wanted something that could do more. So, like any good hacker, he decided to build something himself.

He wanted to incorporate all the popular beginner robot capabilities into a single invention. His robot can follow a line, detect an obstacle, and retrieve an object without switching between modes. It can even follow another robot, which is pretty neat.

His robot has a lot of the hardware you would expect. It uses a Raspberry Pi for all the heavy image processing, has optical sensors for line following and obstacle avoidance, and includes a speaker for audio feedback. What’s especially cool is the impressive interface, called the Regbot GUI, that [Ruchir] is using with his robot. According to the Wiki page, the Regbot GUI appears to accompany an educational robotics platform developed by Professor Jens Christian Andersen of the Technical University of Denmark for teaching controls to engineering students. [Ruchir] was able to adapt the GUI to his particular bot no problem.

Using the Regbot GUI, [Ruchir] can monitor all the robot’s sensor data in real-time (accelerometer, gyroscope, distance sensor, servo, encoder, etc.), dynamically adjust its calibration settings if needed, or even provide a universal killswitch in case the unthinkable happens. We’d say it’s definitely worth a look before you embark on your next robotics project.

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IRobot Makes Learning Robot More Affordable

When you think of iRobot, you probably think of floor cleaning or military robots. But they also have a set of robots aimed at education. The Root robot — an acquisition the company made in 2019 — originally targeted classrooms and cost about $200 each. A new version costs about $130 and is a better fit for home users.

The original version  — Root rt1 — is still available, but the rt0 version has several missing features to hit the desired price. What’s missing? Apparently, the rt1 can stick to a whiteboard using magnets, but that feature is missing on the rt0. There are also no “cliff” sensors or color scanner.

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