Recently we had the opportunity to run a STEM workshop at a biannual warplanes event called Wings over Wairarapa in Masterton NZ. There were about 5000 visiting on the STEM day and we had to plan for quick turn around sessions which will still be engaging and fun. We decided to run a Robotics activity using LEGO EV3 kits which we have pre-built into rovers. These rovers are programmed using the iPad app for LEGO. We also have our replica Mars Rover made using the JPL designs; however its still not manually driven due to some technical faults. So that made a good prop and teaching point to begin talking about the Mars expedition. Talking about scale makes life easier when its around.
We had 4 groups of 50 students over the course of the day visiting our stall. We divided them into 2 groups of 25 for each hour. Jack Penman from Jackbord robots ( Twitter: @jackbordrobots) was running a session alongside on intro to electronics using his specially designed electronics module for classrooms. On the other side of the fairly large tent, I had setup a driving platform for the rovers that the students had to navigate around obstacles. As the day progressed the activity was very loosely setup; the temperature rose to 28 degrees and with constant distraction of the air planes flying at low altitude, it was hard to keep their attention.
Meanwhile, we also had an Augmented reality company, QuiverVision who had designed custom sheets with vintage airplanes just for the show which was awesome. We handed out prizes for best colored and gave our brand new VR cardboard goggles that we made as outreach giveaways. I realised that NASA JPL have an awesome app called Spacecraft AR in which, with the latest update, you can overlay Perseverance in your room. It also has other fantastic add-ons like the Space and Earth which is very cool.
That coloring activity gave me a brilliant thought! What if there was a coloring sheet for Perseverance that could go alongside the programming activity. Usually in robotics, its all about coding ( apart from LEGO and Vex that emphasise construction as well, most kits mainly focus on the coding side of things) and this colouring activity just gives a little bit of fun and learning that’s missing in robotics. Also having come across a cool rover design called the Exo My ( Raspberry pi rover which looks like fun ) that classrooms could take on as a robotics project. It is 3D printed and fairly cheaper to build compared to the JPL designs.
I can’t wait to test out some web based VR creators like InstaVR and Cospaces, and create some Mars based content to accompany our cardboard goggles. And the same for AR. I know that Unity and Unreal is still the go-to place for creating content, but someday in the future content creation will be a breeze and students won’t just be consumers of mixed reality. Meanwhile as I write this, Microsoft has made an announcement with Mesh SDK and it’s avatar based interaction between people. Only one problem; The devices (Hololens) are priced out of regular Digital Technology budgets. Nevertheless, Mixed reality and Robotics can go hand in hand with accessible technology.