Early this year, the local 4-H chapter and MU Extension introduced some Bismarck students to creating their own robotic animals through programming and creativity.
Youth Program Coordinator Kayce Amsden and former aerospace engineer Ann Boes brought the idea to the school as part of a grant from Cognizant.
About twice a week after school, students in elementary and junior high worked to build robotic animals that respond to or perform functions programmed on the computer.
Their families helped decide on what types of animals to create, their behaviors, and what inputs and outputs they would have.
“Some of the parents have felt comfortable building the robot and with the mechanics, and let their kids do the programming since that’s their domain,” Boes said. “Others have learned programming too.”
After school, the students would work on the electronics and the coding.
“The idea is to help kids learn computing and to tie it in to making physical things,” Boes said.
She explained the main hardware behind the animals.
“The microbit is a little microcomputer,” Boes said. “The BBC designed them and gave one to every student in the seventh grade (in the UK). They have buttons, a compass, and can recognize motion and responses. They also have inputs. We’re adding them a motor board that lets you add motors and sensors and sounds.”
One of the animals Boes demonstrated was an owl whose head spun completely around.
About a turtle, Boes said, “It responds to a magnet censor that will make the neck lift up, and then it has another set of censors that starts to chew.”
The menagerie includes seven animals: a dog, an owl, a walrus, a crab, a dragon, and two turtles.
The art teacher, Bridget Anglin-Cooper helped compose some of them.
“We started out with sketches, the scavenged for materials and helped put things together,” she said. “I helped make different pieces to help them with what they were doing.”
“We used for instance, real feathers on the owl, and put a box on the turtle to give it its appearance,” Anglin-Cooper said.
During school hours, Boes worked on hot gluing wires and securing the animals so that they would be ready to take home when the time came.
“It’s created using drag-and-drop programming,” said Nathan Pruett, a business and technology teacher who is helping them.
“Drag-and-drop is where instead of writing the verbiage of the code, there will be a list of files to click,” Pruett said. “They can pull commands from a database and then watch a simulated version of their physical robot.”
The codes formed a column of phrases and functions that were connected as if they were puzzle pieces.
“For many of them it’s probably their first time coding, so they’re really learning a lot about the basics of coding electronics,” Boes said.
“They program the inputs, the censors, and the motors,” Boes said.
Boes taught a robotic petting zoo before at Lab Revolution, a 4H technology playground in Farmington, but this is the first time that she’s used it with microbits.
The microbits website also features a bevy of projects they can use with their chip once they take it home, Boes said.
Matthew Morey is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3617, or at email@example.com.