If you’ve had a difficult time getting your child into technology, why do you think that is?
One thing I’ve heard from a number of parents is that, while tech is a regular part of their kids’ lives, the “guts” of that tech is largely intangible—making it difficult for young minds to connect the dots between something like coding, and how coding actually powers apps, websites, and more. (Coding isn’t hard to learn or understand, but I see where they are coming from.)
To counter such thinking, many parents turn to something like robotics in order to physically show, through construction and visible movement, just how much power their kids could have in their hands.
And there are opportunities to explore! From VEX and LEGO to Sphero, Arduino, and other tools, there are a number of different creative and educational outlets when it comes to robotics for kids.
Benefits of robotics
First, the “why?”
Robotics offers a number of general benefits, but just as is the case with something like coding, those benefits will differ and get more specific - from problem-solving to teamwork - based on which “branch” your child explores.
Are you familiar with the Sphero BOLT? The whole point of this app-enabled robot is for kids to program the device to complete a variety of tasks. So, with a built-in LED matrix as well as speed and directional sensors, the BOLT guides kids through problem-solving via obstacle navigation.
With something like the LEGO building system, kids can explore mechanical creation, yes, but also drag-and-drop visual coding to control their bots with LEGO SPIKE Prime software. Same with the above-mentioned BOLT—the activity is supplemented by visual Scratch programming, providing a well-rounded head start into the world of STEM.
If your child is involved in a robotics club at school, you may already be witnessing this benefit in action—teamwork! The basis of many robotics clubs is creating and programming a bot suitable for “battle” in a local STEM competition. And out at VEX robotics camp, kids work in teams to adapt their robots to compete in dynamic, user-piloted challenges like obstacle courses, where they code bots to complete autonomous tasks like navigating mazes or stacking and moving objects.
Robotics camp courses
Speaking of camps, clubs, and courses, how can kids get involved in robotics?
The robotics club is, in fact, one of the most well-known opportunities, but there are a number of different after-school courses and summer camps that focus specifically on robotics. Here are a few examples:
In a VEX robotics course, kids can learn to use sensors, which gather information for their robots, and motors, which allow them to create moving parts, like wheels and claw arms.
Kids can learn to make a number of different kinds of robots using VEX, including:
- Controlled robots, which they pilot with a VEX controller
- Autonomous robots, which act on their own
- Robots that pick up objects
And, because VEX is also used in robotics competitions all over the world, groups of students will work together to build a robot designed to complete a specific task—like building a robot to navigate an obstacle course or to sort colored rings!
Autonomous and self-driving robotics
“Autonomous” robot, self-driving car, and delivery bot are all terms used to describe robots that navigate their environments using sensors with little to no human interaction.
Students in such a course might cover an autonomous robot design process from start to finish, including:
Analog circuits: Learning the fundamentals of electrical engineering: Power, polarity, resistance, digital, and analog.
Coding Arduino: Coding with Arduino to create programs that correlate with vehicles, e.g. turn signals (blinking and switching), speed control, lights automatically turning on.
Robotics: Building an Arduino-powered robot. Creating impact and environment sensors that control the robot. Programming the motors to navigate its environment and protect the robot from hazardous situations.
MicroPython: Learning MicroPython and reading data from the OpenMV camera. Using MicroPython to control only the camera and test filter modes.
Computer vision: Exploring computer vision and autonomous robotics. Using face, movement, eye tracking, and digital image filters together.
You know LEGO, right? In a LEGO robotics course, kids could learn how to code loops, Touch sensors, motor control, and much more.
Specifically, some students could learn how to program a line-follower robot and design custom images and sounds, while more advanced students can learn to create programs that use button inputs, multiple moving motors, and switch statements.
Depending on interests, kids can take any of the following paths:
Robotics Engineer: Focuses on building a great "all-around" robot that can move, use sensors, and play sounds.
Robotics Programmer: Focuses on creating multiple programs to run on a single robot type; versatile enough to have different functions.
Visual Programmer: Blends visual robot design concepts with strong programming skills.
Robot Designer: Focuses on design detail (for those who want to build more than code).
Display Designer: Programs the robot to tell a story or interact with the user with a series of displays; more of an AI feel.
Audio Engineer: Makes a robot that can sing, play music, or talk to the user.
Remember the benefits listed above—robotics offers a number of benefits on its own, but can also be a gateway to coding and other STEM subjects. It’s not just the visual drag-and-drop programming previously talked about, but through robotics, kids can learn to code with Arduino, MicroPython, and more.
If you’re ready to get your kids started in robotics, have them jump in right now, either after school or on the weekends with iD Tech Online, or this summer with our robotics camps held at 150+ prestigious campuses including Stanford, NYU, Caltech, and others.