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ICT - Getting with the program

What it's all about

It could have been a recipe for disaster - a computer science "boot camp" for secondary students with no experience of robots or programming. But a three-day Technocamp at Aberystwyth University, run as part of a European project, transformed 22 children into students who could control live robots, writes Roger Boyle.

For years, the university had been taking robots out to local schools, introducing the reality of robotics on serious hardware. The workshops worked well, but there is a limit to what you can do in four hours. The boot camp, on the other hand, immersed them.

Participants learned a real language, understood that robots were hard to control, saw that sonar and vision are useful and controllable senses. They also saw that simulators are a smart way to develop expensive platforms.

Students were dropped in at the deep end when they were asked to send control instructions and had to read the sonar sensors. The simulator gave them confidence that the programs were "safe" before being run on live hardware via a wireless link. Activities were initiated by role play. A blob-tracker was programmed to move the robot towards a target. If this sounds easy, it's not. You need to learn coordinates, error in direction and sensorcontrol feedback to close in gently.

The three days culminated in running the same program on an all-terrain outdoor robot that ended up chasing the children across a field.

What else?

Engage your class in Robot Wars with TES English's lesson plans and activities based on the television programme. bit.lyRobotWars.

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