Why Should Robotics Be Taught in Schools?

Robots used to be mere futuristic science fiction creations. Fast forward to today, robots pervade our daily lives, as well as perform more innovative work not unlike the humanoids we see in movies. You’ve probably heard of the term Robotics, which deals with the design, construction, operation, and application of robots.

 

Robots can be as mundane as performing repetitive tasks or as exciting as interactively responding to new information to increase their capabilities and functions. Think of a voice-bot like Alexa by Amazon, which has the ability to learn new skills through its sound interface.

 

Branches of science involved in Robotics include mechanical, electronic, software and information engineering as well as computer science.

The benefits of teaching robotics

Encourages creative thinking and having fun

  • Demystify a multi-faceted technology – working with robots visually helps students understand complex concepts more easily.
  • Challenging children to build (e.g. a robot from Lego’s Mindstorms) leads to an increased interest in Information Technology.

Learn different ways of problem solving

  • Creativity is NOT just putting together mechanical and electrical parts; there is also the programming.
  • When programming, students learn to create and use algorithms (sequences of steps taken in calculations or problem solving to achieve a goal).
  • This challenges them to break down task into smaller chunks.
  • This is how we problem solve: having the skills to break complex parts into simpler ones!

Preparing for advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI)

  • The programming skills associated with Robotics will help people develop more thinking robots as AI pervades our daily life

Develops skills that will be useful in future employment

  • By building robots and programming them, students can discover if they have the aptitude and interest in a growing job market of the future.

Applications for robots have enabled us to do and learn many things not possible before.

Where can we find use of Robotics and how can they help us learn more?

Medical field – Robots perform minimally invasive surgeries using a camera arm and mechanical arms with surgical instruments attached to them which are controlled by the surgeon remotely at a computer console in the operation room. The console provides a high-definition and enlarged 3-dimensional view of the area to be operated which enhances precision and control.

 

On a more routine basis, robots help people with health conditions or physical disabilities. Wheelchairs with mounted robotic arms can send brainwaves from the user to the robotic arm to execute tasks like opening the refrigerator door using a brain-computer interface.

 

Navigating extreme and dangerous environments – Think of war, nuclear, deep sea and outer space. A robot rover (space exploration vehicle) is used in NASA’s Mars mission to gather data on Mars and robots are being used extensively in bomb detection.

 

How about disaster situations like fires and floods? Drones are sent to provide real-time analysis and compile important information about how risky it is to venture into an accident area.

 

On the other hand, far from just scientific, medical, space and military uses, drone technology has already made its way into the remote-controlled “toy” sector.  The high-definition cameras used in drones capture stunning aerial panoramas and are not uncommon in home surveillance. This has also led to widespread use in photography and videos in sports, tourism and real estate.

 

Manufacturing The auto industry is a good example where robots are used intensively. Traditionally robots weld, paint, assemble, package and label, inspect, and test the vehicles.

 

Now even the vehicles themselves can become autonomous (i.e. self-driving) with the use of Robotics. However, this is still in a development stage. Though the vehicles can self-drive quite safely with real back-up drivers to take over control should things go wrong, not the same can be said if no real driver is present. Fatal accidents have happened.  Manufacturers are trying to overcome technical, safety, legal and regulatory challenges. Consumers are wary of adopting the technology as it can mean life or death for early adopters. One of the obstacles is getting the robotic car to recognize subtle cues on the road that the human driver is currently capable of. Artificial intelligence has yet to replace human judgement. Despite some setbacks, companies are continuing to invest in the technology.  It will be interesting to see the progress in the next decade.

Pueblo Science’s role in Robotics

During the National Engineering Month Ontario in March, Pueblo Science organized a Robotics Competition where teams built, programmed, and raced their own Robo Car. As part of the preparation for the event, Pueblo Science introduced high school students to soldering and circuit testing. They also learned to test the assembly and program the robotic cars.

As part of Pueblo Science’s RISE program in Guyana, we are currently introducing Robotics training in New Amsterdam from June 18 to 20, and Linden on June 24 to 110 teachers and 100 students. Stay tuned for more updates and photos!

Bringing Robotics to the next level

There is no denying that Robotics will continue to advance and play a significant part in artificial intelligence and machine learning. One thing to take away is that building robots with insufficient human-like thought process can be detrimental, or even fatal. This is why we need to encourage more children to take an interest in Robotics and hope that when they grow up, they will be able to help overcome the current obstacles and bring Robotics to the next level.

This blog article was written by Russell K. Hassan.

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