Robots platforms and practicalities

I received an email from a friend the other day asking me about a particular robotics platform she recently saw.

I've played with robotics on and off over the years ranging from building them from (not using) scratch using Atmel chips and programming them in assembly to using Arduino based platforms to using pre-built robot platforms. They're really cool and since they interact with the real world you can do all sorts of interesting and motivational things with students.

I've done these on my own as a hobbyist and also with students either individually or in small groups, but never as part of a class I had been teaching.

Why not?

The biggest reason is that the classes I've taught are already so packed full of CS goodness that we can't even get everything done that's theoretically on the syllabi.

The other has to do with practical concerns.

Equipment costs - Let's say we can get our platform at $100 a pop. I just can't see a public school with 34 kids in a class getting one per student or one for every two.

So, what's the robot to student ratio and how much actual access do the kids get? If they're designing building, do they all get to design and build? Same question with coding and operating.

Then there's space – if we're talking about a mobile platform as opposed to something that sits on the desk and is near stationary, we have a problem. The classrooms I've taught in can barely hold the students.

There are also issues with breakage, loss, theft and long term maintainability - will we be able to or even want to fill in with compatible units in a few years as needed or will we have to reboot the program from scratch.

All that to deal with before we even get to the fun of teaching and learning.

I'm really curious about the experiences of those of you who do teach using robots and similar platforms.

If you are such a teacher, could you please fill out this form or leave a comment for anything that the form doesn't cover?


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