Thursday, August 4, 2011

Robot Crafts for Kids

I recently a joined a local chapter/club in robotics and attended a meeting. One of the topics brought up was providing an activity area for the children so that the robot competitors wont be distracted by children during the upcoming robot rally. The example given was during last years rally, the robot competitor allowed some younger attendees to operate his machine because everyone wants to operate a robot. Before the competition was about to begin, he had to chase the young attendee down so that he could have his Bot back. Luckily, nothing was broken, but it could have affected his outcome. As discussed, if an activity area is given with robot themed entertainment, this might mitigate any damage to Bots while still encouraging interest from the children that may attend.

I can simpathize with their concern, I have a Kindergarten age kid who is interested in Legos and robots but he must be entertained before he loses interest. To encourage his interests, we had him attend the local Lego store classes that are offered and a Lego summer camp which constantly challenges him.

So here is a list of robot themed activities that I have compiled that may help the adults encourage children with an interest in robots:

1. Lego stacks - Building blocks are the easiest things that spark the interest of every kid (or kid at heart). Unfortunately, there are never enough Legos or special build blocks (axels, wheels, pivot blocks) for all the possibilities that may spring to a child's imagination. And Legos are not a sit-the-kid-down-and-go activity without providing some adult supervision. I am not talking about swallowing parts, but rather conflict control. Arguments over parts or outright destruction from the bully syndrome are some of the situations that must be stopped at the time of incident before it escalates. SO the best solution is have plenty of parts and have an adult standing by as the fair-and-good order police.

Some Lego Projects ;

2. Kinex, Vex, or Erector sets - More expensive than Legos but more capable of larger loads and torque. Requires a higher skill level than Legos. Excellent platform to expand on for more skilled robot enthusiasts.
3. Cardboard, Wooden, or plastic robot pieces -
There are not enough kits out that can be bought and built, but if someone has a CNC this can be cheaper to acquire than Kinex. And once built can be cheap prizes or donated materials that are excellent platforms for expanding on for more skilled robot enthusiasts.

Open source robotic arm
Wooden claw
Cardboard and duct tape arm

4. Paper Actvities - Coloring books, cut and paste paper robot themes, and sticker books are okay for 3-7 years of age. Luckily, my child is still in this group. Be sure to have plenty of each type of activity printed out, crayons/markers available, clean up supplies, storage containers, and parental control of the scissors.

Coloring book images

5. Pepakura and paper robots -
Do not underestimate the versatility of paper as a building material. The Japanese have dedicated an entire artform to paper folding and cutting beyond the commonly known orgami and it is called pepakura. Basically, pepakura is printed paper or cardstock that is cut and glued into working replicas of popular themes (people or anime characters, mechas, spaceships, and modern vehicles). And sometimes just like papermache, the paper is covered with fiber glass resin or less toxic epoxy to form costumes, masks, or even armor. The skill level required is more advanced than a normal grade school age child can accomplish and requires more effort and time, but the rewards and level of detail can be immense fun to accomplish. If trying to do this with a younger child, have them cut AROUND the pieces and glue one piece at a time while the adult does the trimming. Bring lots of patience and download the free Pepakura viewer.

a. Paper figures and robot sites ; ; ; ; ;

Blank Robot Figure

Poseable Robot

Blank Robots BoxPunx

WALLE (from Disney/Pixar) Mechas/Gundams

Canti (from FLCL)


b. Paper spaceships and vehicles




VEHICLES yamaha , harley davidson, tank

6. Basic Electronics and Gears- Great way to recycle leftover parts or cheap parts. Instruction led or written direction and schematics are a must.

a. Squishy Circuits - conductive play dough

b. Paper Gears -

7. Microcontroller activity - Higher cost and instruction led.  I recently used the Arduino to show a high schooler and we started with the multiple LED blinking (circuit 02 on followed by the switch (circuit 07).  We ran out of time before we could go over the motor shield.  I kept the programming of the Arduino simple by explaining the Arduino IDE, went over the steps to load the application, the basic elements of the C# code (initialize the pins, define the pins, set defaults, begin loop action), and simple editting using copy and paste to change the direction of blinking lights (used // to ignore lines of code and copy-paste a line of code or variable).

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