How we transformed kids into robotics engineers in several days

It doesn’t take much to make kids interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Yes, yes, STEM is everywhere nowadays but this story is somewhat different.   

Petnica and Osijek Software City organized Robotics camp powered by American Embassy in Belgrade and Zagreb. Our task was to provide basic education on robotics to high school students and their teachers from 16 schools in Croatia and Serbia.  

Turn these kids into robotics engineers in just several days? Challenge accepted!

The first step - get into the STEM

The first part of the robotics camp started in Petnica, beautiful research center responsible for STEM education among young generations in Serbia, where we had to deliver introduction into robotics to teachers and their students.

Each school was given a STEMI hexapod robot to start their journey into robotics. As a starting point, a preparation phase, we used step-by-step video lessons.

Students with their teachers went through STEMI curriculum and gained a basic knowledge of 3D modeling, mobile app development, and Arduino programming.

Yeah, that is some real C++ code right here!

You would be amazed how much you can learn with these lessons in just a few days, whether you’re in a classroom, at home or attending a workshop.

In the preparation phase, each team had to assemble the robot and program a basic mobile application to operate the robot. Simple things like go forward a few centimeters and turn left for 30 degrees. For that, we used a graphical programming interface designed for beginners (MIT App inventor) in combination with some textual programming (Arduino C++).

Second, they learned how to design 3D models and use a 3D printer. It was amazing to see the looks on their faces when their first models became a reality. Starting off as an idea, growing as a virtual object in a computer program and finishing as a solid object they can hold in their hands.

Amazing. But that was just a beginning.

The real-life robotics challenge

3D printing of shapes they designed, making their own mobile apps and programming robot’s movements were no longer only magic. Now, it became magic they understand and can use to make their ideas come true.

But here comes the interesting part.

They got a task to design a robotic extension in the shape of a gripper in order to manipulate and carry small objects. The robot had to be able to grab, carry and rearrange small tokens to appropriate bases in the field.

Of course, there was also some challenging maneuvering required to show off the controller mobile app they made and some piloting skills. Time of their performance was also about to be measured to generate some additional competitivity.

They had to combine all the skills they gained so far. No proposals or possible solutions were offered by our side. They had to stretch their little creative minds and design both mechanical and software solutions to complete the task.

We gave them 6 months to figure out a solution, make it work and showcase it in Osijek where the competition took place.

THE COMPETITION

Here are some of the solutions we saw before the competition.

This blew our minds. No one could have expected so many different solutions. And these were not just concepts or ideas, these were working prototypes. Anyone who ever worked in this field of robotics knows how hard it is to get something to actually work.

Some teams needed additional tweaking and setting up so we spent 2 days before the grand challenge with them to make everything work. Almost every team stayed up really late to improve their current solution and finally perform better in the competition.

 And the competition was a blast!

There was cheering, clapping, frustration and crazy bursts of happiness during the performance. We can’t stress enough how hard it was to choose a winner among these amazing solutions.

Every team deserved much more than what we could offer as a first prize.

We took everything into consideration: presentation, mechanical design, mobile app solution, the visual design of the robot and the time it took them to complete the challenge. There were also some time awards and penalties for doing things right or wrong during the competition.

The hardest part was to choose two teams that were awarded a new 3D printer and a robotic kit for further learning. And you can imagine their faces when they found out they won these things.

Fantastic. We do what we do because of moments like this.

What’s next

On our way back to Zagreb, inspired by kids creativity and ambition, we were filled up with ideas about how to scale this kind of robotics camps and challenges so that every child could have an opportunity to get empowered in such a way.

There is no better feeling than the one when you enable kids to burst their creativity and encourage their curiosity like that. The best thing is that these days everyone can get this kind of a robotic kit with education to learn and create from the comfort of their own homes.

Wanna dive into it?

Check out our new STEMI Hexapod robot

 

p.s. here are some cool links:

Robotics camp in Osijek image gallery

Videos of final races

Petnica

Osijek Software City