Robots have always held a certain fascination. Tin plate toy robots from the 1950s-60s command high prices, although they have little practical use. But in recent years it’s become possible to produce affordable working devices that can help teach the mechanics of building robots and also the programming needed to make them work.
What may have started out as a toy is now an important part of teaching youngsters about the practical value of robotics.
From Toy to Tool
The earliest toy robots were able to move in a crude fashion, but it was construction toys that made more practical robots possible. Indeed the prototypes that spawned some of the earliest industrial robots originated in Meccano. Later, toys such as Lego allowed simple robots to be produced, allowing children to learn about how they worked.
More sophisticated educational tools such as the Arduino prototyping platform allow students to learn the basics of engineering. This involves both hardware and software and can lead to a range of different robot projects. If you want to find out more you can watch Arduino tutorial videos here.
There’s now a whole industry surrounding educational robots. This has led to various competitions to encourage interest, involving robots performing a range of different tasks from simple detection of their surroundings to playing games.
You can see a direct line between these educational robots to some of the latest gadgets such as robot vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers, and also to entertainment robots like Sony’s Aibo dog.
The world of simple educational robots also has a direct link to the world of research. This grew from the development of the early industrial robots. It has also played a major part in the space programme with NASA developing robots to perform maintenance and other tasks in place of human astronauts.
Companies such as Honda have ploughed a good deal of effort into producing humanoid-like robots. Although these may not have a direct practical use they serve to engage students and get them excited about engineering. This type of robot also has the potential in years to come to help the elderly or disabled by performing tasks that they can’t.
Some researchers are also exploring the idea of miniature robots that can work together to perform tasks. Again these robot ‘swarms’ have few practical applications as yet but offer a pointer to the future uses of the technology.
Many universities now have departments and labs dedicated to roboticsin order to further research and produce future generations of engineers for the robotics industry.
Unlike some areas of education and research which can seem rather abstract, robots have a direct connection to the real world. As we increasingly rely on robotics to run production lines or to operate safely in harsh environments, so the need for people to design and build the robots of the future increases. The use of robots in education, from the simplest toys to the most sophisticated research tools, ensures continued interest in automation for coming generations.
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