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On January 22nd several robots from Deakin University visited the students at Mount Waverley Primary School's (MWPS) Summer Vacation Care Program, as part of Deakin's Schools Outreach activities. The team consisted of two Nao humanoid robots, a line following mouse-bot, a robotic arm, an unusual polymorphic robot made from 'Cubelets' and an autonomous helicopter. They were accompanied by their assistants, Shaun Bangay, Tim Wilkin, Lei Pan and Honours student Ben Sanfilippo. Around 55 students from ages 5 to 11 took part in the 90 minute interactive session.
With a goal of encouraging young children to become excited about technology, the students were captivated by an initial "warm up" display put on by the Naos. Raucous laughter, giggles, "oohs" and "ahhs" were heard frequently as the Nao robots spoke to the audience, tracked faces and followed people around, listened for commands and executed interesting behaviours. One Nao was even heard to chant "exterminate" as it went on a Dalek-style rampage through the front ranks of the audience, which evoked considerable excitement.
Students then broke up into teams and rotated through a set of interactive activities involving the various robots, learning about the principles of sensing, decision making and action (the fundamentals of robotics) within different contexts and applications. Perhaps the most exciting activity (if volume is a valid measure of excitement) was the navigation challenge. Students were given a set of large cards with line and curve sections on them and they had to join fixed start and goal cards by using the pieces to form a continuous path, dealing with problems such as intersections, branches and merges. They then set the line-following robot onto the start tile and let it loose. Success was achieved if the robot made it to the goal by following their path and several groups achieved this objective, with much cheering!
Deakin's robots enjoyed the visit but were understandably tired at its conclusion, leaving their assistants to conduct a lively discussion on some of Deakin's more advanced robots, such as the autonomous quad-rotor helicopter. Students asked many questions, demonstrating significant interest and curiosity for the subject matter. Overall the visit was a huge success and feedback from both students and staff at MWPS was excellent.
The robots were recharged and ready to do it all again in late February, delivering their unique brand of entertainment and learning to year 11 science students visiting Deakin's Burwood campus for the day. On February 28th around 50 students took part in a slightly shorter program that focused on the sense-compute-act cycle inherent to robotics and embedded computing devices. Over two half hour sessions the robots and their assistants engaged the students in various learning activities that had them excited and amazed. Many questions were asked and answered, with students showing a real interest in Deakin's robots; particularly Nao. Feedback on this event was also excellent, with Marketing Division reporting that the students spoke with excitement about it throughout the rest of their visit to Deakin.
The "Interactive Robot Activities" will be on offer as part of the Faculty's "Schools Outreach Program" throughout 2013. For more information on Deakin's "Interactive Robotics Activities" program, or our teaching and research in robotic technologies and applications, please contact either Tim Wilkin or Shaun Bangay.
Published: March 2013