Building a Raspberry PI Robot for Classroom Use

One of the favourite parts of my week is facilitating a robotics activity for a group of 16-18 year-olds. The activity has run successfully in its current form for over ten years but this year we’re shaking things up a bit and trying to improve what we do. As such, I thought I’d write about it here and share what we’re up to.

Background

Each year we enter a team of up to 20 students into the Student Robotics competition.

Student Robotics supplies each team with a set of equipment containing everything you could need to begin designing, building and programming an autonomous robot.

That Student Robotics supply the equipment is both the best and worst thing about the competition. It’s great because it allows a team with little experience to get up and running as quickly as possible. However, having only one set of equipment has caused us some problems when scaling the participation of our students from a small handful to around 20.

The problem with a large team

Trying to encourage 20 students to share one set of kit is tough – perhaps impossible. What we have found is that the group quickly thins out, with many team members becoming passive. Eventually, one student usually steps forward who designs, programs and builds the robot themselves. We’ve seen some brilliant robots built this way over the past few years but I couldn’t always say that they had been team efforts – rather than being the result of a well-managed team they have relied upon the hard work, dedication and determination of just a handful of students.

These problems are confounded by the fact Student Robotics doesn’t start until mid-October. At college, our timetable begins in September and we have often struggled to fill our sessions with meaningful activities for the students to complete – we are essentially twiddling our thumbs and waiting for the competition to be announced and the kit to arrive.

New kit – we have some money!

This year I hope will be different. We have secured funding for us to buy 6 sets of robotics kit of our own.

Here is what we have ordered:

What we will build

What we hope to build using this kit is a robotics kit that can be programmed in an identical fashion to the equipment from Student Robotics (using the same API). As a result, I hope to solve the problems that we have had previously regarding group size and lack of equipment and widen participation and expertise amongst the students that we teach.

The aim is that this will encourage our students to encountered many common pitfalls and solve many of the common problems early on in the project rather than two days before the competition.

Coming up

I hope to document what we get up to this year in robotics here on this blog. Some of the posts (especially in the near future) will likely be technical descriptions and walkthroughs of how I get the equipment working but I also hope to discuss the teaching activities that we use and the progress of the team as we work towards the competition.