For education, we envision a hierarchy of robots as shown in the accompanying platform pyramid. However, all ultimately behave according to the simple robot concept diagram shown. Robotics can be the ideal unifying curriculum for many disciplines at all grade levels and our programs play to this connection to help enhance STEM learning!
Increasingly, we are finding interest in robots by our senior and more elderly population. They are equally as excited in learning about these devices as well as the field of robotics. Many of these folks have grandchildren and they are often on the lookout for an educational opportunity to share with their families.
At the bottom level, we see the most basic kits and insects robots. Some are hardwired to take power, detect something in their environment or surroundings, and act. They may sense sounds, light or the lack thereof, and obstructions to their motion. Their actions may be to simply shutdown temporarily and sleep or play dead or change direction of motion. Their behavior is fixed and cannot be changed with rewiring or programming/coding. We have a number of VEX Robotics Hexbug devices that fit this category. We also have Modular Robotics Cubelets. These have pre-determined functions and by linking them together, unlimited robot variations can be created. In recent years, newer version “smart” blocks have obtained programming features through wireless communications and have acquired new capabilities that allows them to compete with the middle level platforms. This change vastly improves the educational value of these devices.
In the middle level we find more advanced kits and modules that can be assembled to perform in numerous ways. These devices may support some level of programming/coding to change their behavior. Some can perform differently by virtue of the way they are configured as their component parts include different functions that can be coupled together as well as having an array of sensing capability. These robots support higher levels of creativity than the bottom level as well as providing great insight into how robots work and can be programmed to accomplish various tasks. Our Lego Mindstorms EV3 and KinderLab Robotics Kibo fit this category. We also include Hasbro Furby robotic toys in this platform level as they can demonstrate learned social adaptability behaviors.
At the uppermost level, we find fairly sophisticated robot kits and pre-assembled humanoid robots. These are fully programmable and come with numerous input and output options as well as actuation and manipulator capability. Our Softbank (formerly Aldebaran) Robotics NAO humanoid robot embraces this category.
All of these robots can engage children on some level. However, the assembled and more sophisticated robots are best suited to older children (ages 8 or 10 and up) while the basic levels and middle levels appeal to younger children (ages 4 to 8), but can still find an interested audience in the older children as they simply demonstrate basic robotics principles. Each manufacturer publishes ideal age levels for using their robot products.