Tue. Oct 22nd, 2019

CRRF conducts Summer Robotics program for teachers, kids

A summer robotics program for teachers and students has wrapped up at the Coral Reef Research Foundation (CRRF), home of the “jellyfish wall”, on Malakal.

The program introduced participants to “Mechatronics”, the computer control of an electro-mechanical system, and as part of this, each pair of students built a small robotic car called a “Land Shark”.

Each class had five morning or afternoon classes for a week, with students earning a certificate for their efforts. Over three weeks, the first week’s class was intended for teachers in Palau’s schools, while the second and third weeks were for local students.

The classes were taught by retired systems engineer and unmanned vehicle specialist Mr. Kevin Bowen, President of Porpoise Robotics (www.porpoiserobotics.org), who developed the training program.

Mr. Paul Cruz, Mindzenty High School physics and robotics teacher, and Ms. Lori Colin of CRRF assisted the students after taking the class during the first week.  High school students Carlos Manuel (PMA) and Erica Mascardo (Mindzenty) also became teaching assistants after completing their class.

Students learned basic electronics and how to assemble a “breadboard” circuit (which has nothing to do with bread you eat!) that powered LEDs and a range finder (like an underwater fish finder) controlled by the Arduino microcomputer using C++ programming.  They learned how to trouble-shoot the electronics and the programming of their vehicle, including what happens when wires are connected backwards (one wheel turns forward and the other backwards) and how to have the vehicle use a turn signal before making a turn.

Each pair of students built a “Land Shark” Autonomous Ground Robot, a three-wheeled “car” with a top speed of one mile per hour.  At the end of the class they tested their creations in a “drag race” that had the students laughing and cheering enthusiastically for their own robots versus their classmates’.

A variety of other robot vehicles were also demonstrated during each class, including vehicles using Raspberry Pi processors, quadcopters, an Open ROV underwater robot, and the VEX robot used in the Mindzenty robotics class.

The students were also lucky to have a demonstration by the US Navy of the iRobot ‘First Look’ used for assessing dangerous locations without a person being present, and then took turns running the vehicle themselves.

The first week for teachers and adults included instructors from Mindzenty, Emmaus-Bethania and PCC and will encourage more robotics training in Palau’s schools.

The four separate classes for students during weeks two and three (3 hours per day totaling 15 hours) included over 40 students ranging from 10 yr. old elementary students to high school graduates and one PCC student.  All four high schools were represented, as were multiple elementary schools.  Younger students were also able to grasp concepts and in fact both winners of the week 3 drag race were elementary students.  Adults had as much fun as the kids and the mystery of mechatronics, mechanical systems controlled by electronics and computers, became less mysterious. The students will find the skills learned in basic electronics, mechanical construction and computer programming useful in many other future endeavors.

Following the enthusiasm and success of the class, CRRF and Porpoise Robotics plan to hold another Summer Robotics Class in 2019.  Funds for the 2018 class were provided by the Palau Rotary Club, Dr. Robert Rex from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Canada Fund and the US Dept. of the Interior (OIA).  Check out the fun on CRRF’s Facebook page at CoralReefResearchFoundation.  For more information, please contact CRRF at 488-5255 or crrfpalau@gmail.com. (PR)