My son loves computer programming using Scratch, and he has always loved using Snap Circuits to create his own electrical circuits. As Christmas approached last year, I wondered what I could get him that would truly meet his current needs and interests, as well as being something he can grow with this year. Due to my husband’s own insistence that I focus on STEM concepts with my son, I was drawn to the concept of a robot.
I decided to go with the GoBox, which packs the GoPiGo robot car (including a Raspberry Pi) with a monthly kit of a new challenge or sensor to add to the robot. As we pondered what to do for last weeks’ science fair, we decided to get even more familiar with the robot. In addition to programming the robot car to go around the room and return to start, we made a presentation about what robots are and are not. Further, after reading some fun stories about robots, we researched and discussed what a robot really is and how the stories were accurate and then how the stories bent toward fantasy. Understanding robots is much more fun with a robot to program yourself!
The main story we talked about is the clever “Robot Robbery” in Usborne’s Incredible Illustrated Stories. In this story, a construction robot is stolen one night and reprogrammed to dig into the ground to rob gold from the bank vault. The robot objects to this on moral grounds, but is programmed to do the robber’s dirty work, and thus must obey. When he is shocked by the bank’s security system, the program is reset, and he can use his own reasoning to change the outcome of the robbery.
This is a fun story to examine from the perspective of what a robot can and cannot do. My son liked the fact that he is forced to say “I obey!” as he digs. That’s accurate. A robot has to do what it is programmed to do. However, Raisin and I both agreed that if the robot was shocked out of a program, he would not be able to then reason on what to do next: without a program, a robot would do nothing!
Raisin made a poster talking about various kinds of robots in our world. He researched Kismet as well, a robot that appears to think, and explained that Kismet only appears to think because he is programmed to learn and internalize from the environment! Raisin also shared how Scratch works to tell his robot car how to move.
The most fun, of course, was for us to play with Scratch in programming the robot to move. Raisin can’t wait to see what is in the kit for next month!
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