E D U B O T S
SHAPING THE FUTURE OF ROBOTICS
Building Code Skills In A Robotic Garden, by Lindsay Sanneman
The Distributed Robot Garden System is both a test bed for distributed algorithms and a platform for computer science education for middle and high school aged students. My team, led by Professor Daniela Rus, has worked over the last year to develop a robotic garden with over 100 robot flowers that can light up, change colors, and open and close their petals. Robotic sheep meander around the bed of the garden and robotic ducks swim in a pond in the center of the garden. Together, the robots in our garden create an aesthetic display of lights and colors that can make computer science education more appealing to young students.
The garden is made up of 16 tiles, each of which can support up to eight robotic flowers. The robotic flowers have connector pieces that allow them to be placed in any of the eight spots on any of the 16 tiles in the garden. Each tile is controlled using an Arduino Mega microcontroller, and the tiles communicate with each other via wired serial communication. One tile is connected to a computer, tablet, or smartphone device via Bluetooth and can receive and forward commands that the user inputs on her device. We developed a Python GUI that shows the layout of the garden and allows users to select a tile or tiles and a command to send to those tiles. Additionally, the GUI has buttons that allow users to see algorithms such as graph coloring, breadth-first search, and depth-first search that run in the garden.
Students who have used the robotic garden have, so far, provided positive feedback and have been excited not only about the algorithms they saw depicted through the light-up flowers but also about how the garden was programmed using Arduinos. With the robotic garden, we aspire to spark student interest in computer science and in robotics by making the code students write more tangible than numbers on a screen. Our hope is that as students develop their own code for the robotic garden, they will be excited about seeing their code working in the real world via the changing colors and moving flowers, and that they will be inspired to pursue computer science further.
The robotic garden is currently located in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) at MIT, but we hope to eventually put a version of it on display for the public. Our next step is to develop a version of the garden that makes public display possible, as well as widespread classroom use, so that students can begin programming the garden themselves.
In the next edition of EduBots, I will provide an update on our progress in developing a new version of the garden that is more accessible to schools.