If you've heard people talking about floor turtles and robots and not known what they were on about, it's not some bizarre science fiction trend - it's all about control technology. We are surrounded by it in our daily lives, from the kettle that switches itself off to the dishwasher and washing machine. The constant presence of this technology is making it an important concept for us to get to grips with. From as early as foundation stage, children can use programmable toys and devices (also known as floor robots or turtles) to help introduce the concepts.
Pressing buttons on a floor robot to move it around can develop pupils' ability to predict the outcome of a simple sequence of commands. By adding sensors, the robots can respond to changes in the environment.
The next step is to move to software like Logo, which displays a history of commands and gets children used to the principles of programming. They can then progress to making their own models that respond to changes in the environment, eg a lighthouse which operates when the ambient light falls below a certain level.
Control systems can be divided into four types:
* Command systems do exactly what you tell them, eg a remote control.
* Programmable systems execute a programmed set of commands, eg a video recorder.
* Sensing systems respond to external conditions, eg automatic doors.
* Conditional systems vary their behaviour according to external conditions, eg a central heating system.
Control technology can be real (eg a device running around on the floor) or simulated (using an on-screen device which you can move around via a set of software commands).
While little compares with designing and building your own robot, simulation is an important part of the process, and reflects real life, where simulations are used by industry in designing, analysing and testing systems.
So what do you need to get going? First, you'll need a floor robotturtle and a copy of Logo. You will also need a control interface, software, models and sensors, electronics and construction kits.
Apart from being fun, controlling programmable toys also gives children experience of estimating, predicting, experimenting and observing the effects of their commands.
Lego Robo Lab: www.lego.comeducation
Pip and Pixie (Swallow Systems): www.swallow.co.uk
Roamer Control: www.valiant-technology.com
Becta White Paper: www.becta.org.uk and search for control technology Annual competitions Micromouse www.micromouse.mmu.ac.uk