5 Random Observations from a Robot Project

December 27th, 2011 — 5:35am

I gave Nathan, my 10-year-old son an educational robot rover for Christmas. It comes assembled, but the “brain” must be written from scratch. Simple tasks like “left motor forward direction, left motor on” can be put together to form more complex actions. This particular rover has the ability to sense an object in front of it using infrared sensors. That makes it possible to write programs to avoid running into things.

After a day of programming here’s our attempt at a semi-intelligent maze-navigation program.

Here are some random observations from a day spent in this rather unusual way. I think they pertain to more than robotic toys.

1. Nothing much works on the first try, but watching the first try immediately inspires ideas for a better second try. Make the first try soon so you can improve quickly.
2. After the 100th round of try and improve, unforeseen ideas for improvements keep coming. Incremental improvement can take you a long way from where you started.
3. The cost of learning almost anything is incredibly low. ($100 for the kit, a laptop I already had, and tons of free information online.)
4. The world is small – competition and opportunity are now global. The manufacturer shipped this to me from China for $14 and it only took a few days.
5. This robot kit depends on a bunch of free open-source software to make it work. It costs zero to give away another copy of something digital, and that turns the economics of sharing upside down.
6. (This one from my son.) “Science projects are awesome.” I agree.