Posts Tagged ‘robotics’

Robotics in the Classroom

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Robotics are essential to our economy and our workplaces. As a special report in Bloomberg Businessweek noted last year, in addition to playing a key role in manufacturing and other established industries, robotics are essential to developing industries, including companies that produce wind turbines, solar panels and advanced batteries and the automobiles they power.

Robotics also play a valuable role in the classroom. We talked with Donald McCoy about the value of robotics as a teaching tool. A retired IBM electrical engineer, Mr. McCoy last year launched his own company, Donald McCoy and Associates, to help demonstrate how robotics can be used to inspire both students and educators in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) curriculum.

1) Why is there interest in robotics for teaching STEM content? What is the value?
The value is in increased learning. We know that most students learn and stay engaged longer with topics they are interested in; robotics is clearly one of those topics. Indirectly, the entertainment industry has helped spark the interests in STEM with popular high-tech science-fiction projects. For example, people have been fascinated with robotics for decades. From Star Trek to Star Wars, many students have entered engineering schools in hopes of developing the next sophisticated robot or Go-Go Gadget. As a result, STEM industry leaders are seeking students that have been trained to be problem-solvers and innovators to take on new global challenges, such as life sciences, energy management, and technologies to advance our social well-being and needs.

2) How does integrating a robotics kit/project into a curriculum impact students? Short term benefits? Long term gains?

Curriculum that has been designed with lesson plans that include robotics technologies and/or project-based instruction has been proven effective in developing hands-on experiences, self-esteem, grade performance, communications, and teamwork. Robotics kits are very versatile with components suitable for many K-12 science, technology, and math lab and classroom projects.

The short-term benefits include the immediate gratification of success in completing assigned projects and the challenge of working in teams to solve problems and to be creative.

The long term gain is that students start building a personal inventory of experiences, usage of tools, applied equations, and collaboration much earlier in their development cycle. Frankly, even if a career in STEM is not desired by the student, the applied math, problem-solving, and logical thinking will help in building life skills.

3) What kinds of standards can be met with a robotics project in the classroom?

There are many robotics projects and applications that can be applied to ‘standard course of studies’ in science and technology and mathematics as defined nationally and internationally. Nearly any curriculum that includes a lab experiment can take advantage of using a robotics central processing unit for data collection, calculations, and/or sensor technologies to increase STEM learning. For example, there are robotics kit sensor technologies that detect and monitor soil moisture pH levels, ultraviolet light, temperature, and conductivity. The collected data can be graphed, analyzed, and reported on using real-world advanced methods. By integrating the appropriate robotics technologies into traditional classroom and lab projects, educators provide students with an opportunity to learn about research, data analysis, technologies, and engineering practices while adding excitement to learning.

4) Looking ahead, what aspects of this experience could translate to a work environment?

All robotics and STEM projects are designed to translate into real-world work experiences. The projects demonstrate real-world concepts and applications. The projects help develop student skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, hand-on experiences, and teamwork. It is important to cultivate and nurture sound behaviors in leadership, time management, effective communications, and responsibility early. Today’s employers are seeking well-rounded students that are critical thinkers, problem solvers, and team players.

Help Wanted: Robotics Technicians

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Last week, we learned about the many applications of remotely operated vehicles, better known as underwater robots. But it turns out that robots of all types are currently in demand, and with robots comes a growing need for robotics technicians.

In fact, Bill Gates, leader of the personal computer revolution, predicts that the next hot employment field will be robotics, and he is not alone in this thinking: Increasing evidence suggests that robots will have the same impact on our future economy as the computer had on the information age.


•The Robotic Industries Association reported in February, 2008 that North American robot orders jumped 24% in 2007.

•Robotics and robotic systems currently make up a $100 billion dollar emerging global industry.

•Service robots for personal use worldwide are projected to increase by 160% over the next three years.

•Scientific American Magazine issued a special report early in 2008 entitled “Your Future with Robots: How Smart Machines will Change Everything.”

It’s clear that the United States needs to be competitive to be part of this booming trend. But right now, Japan is the global leader in both the development and use of robotics, with the U.S. a distant second. (Japan is far outpacing the USA in patents; however, the United States leads in the development of software programs used in robots and robotic systems.) And many other countries are also emerging as major competitors. In December, 2007, it was reported that the South Korean government plans to invest the equivalent of $1.6 billion dollars to build two robot theme parks as part of an effort to boost that country’s robotics industry. European Union countries are also strong competitors: In 2005, the BBC news reported that the European Union’s 25 member states have a 35% share in the global manufacturing of robots.

In Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, a publication produced by the U.S. National Intelligence Council, it is predicted that service robotics will be a significant process-altering technology over the next decade, noting that in domestic settings, widespread use of the technology could leverage manpower and change care for a growing elderly population. In addition, mobile platforms currently optimize industrial production processes, shopping guides help customers to navigate their local do-it-yourself store, and autonomous forklift trucks simplify logistical processes. In 2009, IEEE (the world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology) offered this series of webinars addressing mobile robotic devices.

In addition to growth in manufacturing and use of commercial and consumer robotics, the US military has set a goal for having 30 percent of the Army comprised of robotic forces by approximately 2020. Robotic devices for U.S. military applications are manufactured exclusively by companies in the U.S. for use on land, in the air, and on the surface and under water. (In 2006, robots in defense, rescue, and security applications accounted for the highest share of the total number of service robots for professional use and this number is projected to increase by over 75 percent over the next three years.)

As noted by Major Kenneth Rose of the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, there are many advantages in robotic technology in warfare. “Machines don’t get tired. They don’t close their eyes. They don’t hide under trees when it rains and they don’t talk to their buddies … A human’s attention to detail on guard duty drops dramatically in the first 30 minutes … Machines know no fear.” In response to national defense implications and the economic impact of robotics as an emerging technology, a Congressional Bi-Partisan Robotics Caucus has been formed to focus on key issues facing the robotics industry.

Over the past year, surveys conducted by the NRTC indicate both a need for technicians with skills specific to the manufacture, operation, and maintenance of unmanned robotic vehicles and demand for more than 700 additional technicians over the next three years. Also of note, these jobs offer an excellent pay scale ($25,000-50,000/yr. locally and up to $72,800/yr. nationally).

There’s no question that increased applications of unmanned, mobile, robotic devices in many sectors are creating an urgent need for highly skilled technicians with this expertise. Just ask Bill Gates.