How to Program a Robot – by JJ Kaler, 10th grade

Let us first acknowledge that programming robots is perhaps the single most stereotypical nerdy engineering pastime in existence. We are proud of it. Secondly, let us acknowledge that Ms. Gilbreath, the Principles of Engineering teacher, has once again masterfully incorporated useful instruction with active kinesthetic learning in her latest project for the class. She deserves an award. (I promise he wrote that with no prompting from me. ~Ms. Gilbreath)

The first step of this project was to assemble a pre-designed robot. This was different from other assembly projects, as we were following set and surprisingly strict guidelines for the assembly. While this step of the process was not as intellectual stimulating as some of the other assemblies we have done, it was necessary for the students to become familiar with the more complex components of the project.

Once the robot was assembled, with all of its colorful buttons, whirring motors, and tangles of wires, we could move on to the single most rewarding task one could ever complete in room 413 – programming the robot.

Other coding programs would have you type things in the computer for fifteen minutes to see a dot or some poorly designed graphic move across a screen, which yields little entertainment value, and therefore little long term mental retainment. The project we are doing, however, offers immediate real world results right in front of our proud and disbelieving eyes. We’ll type in a line of code, then suddenly, the wheels of our robot, the fruit of our labor, start spinning. And they spin, and the spin, and they keep spinning until we tell it to stop. We could use that to remotely move a robot throughout a maze to complete a task, like through air ducts in a Mission Impossible action sequence.

We also programmed our robot to complete certain actions in certain circumstances, so that if we made a mistake in our mission, like we navigated into a wall, then the robot could automatically correct itself. In the terms of our project, we coded the robot’s wheels so that one would turn at half power in one direction and the other would turn at half power in the opposite direction when a button was pushed. This means that if the robot ran into a wall, pushing the button, the robot would then turn around and continue on with its mission, instead of trying to keep pushing forward with all of its might against the immovable tin walls of the air duct.

The students in the class are now one step closer to being real life spy heroes, or, at the very least, top-notch prospects in the highest growing job categories of the economy. This lesson in computer programming gave us personal, rewarding skills that will not be forgotten easily, just utilized more and more in this world of growing computer dependence.

(In the video, JJ has turned his testbed into a battering ram.)

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