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Week 2 – Electronics & Robotics

By SirLucian's School of Solutions No Comments

Summer of Stem 2018

Without some understanding of electronics, one cannot hope to be competent in the field of robotics. So this module started with an introduction to what electricity is, how electronics is a means of controlling the flow of electrons, and how this all enables us to create some fantastic inventions. Of course my kids weren’t here for a lecture, so I kept this brief and we quickly moved onto the cool stuff. We had much to do and not all that much time.

Glossing over the various electronic components and their functions, most of which we would not be using anyway, I then took apart a little motor and showed them how it all works. Our first practical circuit was simply to apply current to the motor. It spins! This would become the primary ingredient in our first little “robot”.

1 battery case, 1 motor and an unbalanced something to make the motor spin. This was the start of our vibro bots. The end results were just too bloody cute.

And extremely noisy

In time we will were experimenting with microcontrollers (Arduinos in this instance) as the brain behind our robot creations. Taking in information through sensors, processing the information and reacting accordingly. Much like ourselves or animals.

Servos running – the drive chain for our bots

Throughout the week we will applied knowledge learned to gradually create our grand finale robot.

Finally we had packaged our bots into their final product

Our bots in action
And I made a more age appropriate way to program the bots in mBlock

As I thought we wouldn’t have time to complete our bots, and rushed through the process on our final day we built a hydraulic arm from a purchased kit. While not electronics, still somewhat robotics.


 The proprosed itinerary:

  • Discussion on electricity, electronics
  • Discussion on robotics – What defines a robot?
  • Meet and greet the components that make up electronic systems
  • Multimeter use
  • Building a simple circuit, then creating a switch
  • ROBOT TIME! Our first bot, a simple vibrobot (take home cost R50)
  • Creating a resistor, then making it a variable resistor
  • Then making it a voltage divider (and how this is significant)
  • ROBOT TIME! Start work on our grand finale robot project…
  • Capacitors – a cursory look into their use
  • Electro-magnetic induction – from the birth of radios to current day wireless charging – a little theory, then some practical
  • Solenoids, speakers and microphones. Demonstrations and dissections of such things. Spoiler alert, they are all the fundamentally the same
  • Motors – Primary means of robotic motion
  • ROBOT TIME! 1 motor, various applications. We’ll create rotary, linear, reciprocating (linear motion, back and forth), and oscillating (back and forth motion along an arc)
  • Gears and pulleys – a discussion on torque and speed and how we can make decisions accordingly depending on our needs
  • ROBOT TIME! 1 motor, two settings. Create a simple gear system that has high speed (revolutions per minute), and a high torque gear system (one able to pick up a larger mass)
  • ROBOT TIME! Servos – The high tech motor for when you need precise control. The motor of choice for our final bot.
  • Diodes – The one way street of electron flow, and utilising this to protect components from reverse current.
  • LEDs. Everyone’s favourite diode.
  • ROBOT TIME! Lets just have some fun with LEDs
  • Transistors – Once just for amplification, now also for use as a switch AND OR logic gate
  • ROBOT TIME! Input -> Output | Writing pseudocode (the logic in plain English behind a program – the first step in translating ideas into computer code) | Creating a robot of your own imagination, both the circuit and the code (with my assistance of course where necessary), that takes an input and reacts accordingly
  • THE GRAND ROBOT TIME FINALE! We can finally: add input modules to our robot and code it to  inputs. Thus we have all we need to finalise our creation!

Week 1 – Mission to Mars

By SirLucian's School of Solutions No Comments

Summer of Stem 2018

A themed exploration of aerodynamics, rockets and other outer space related things

My first attempt at formally teaching, and my first time overseeing a group of young kids. I was excited, but at the same time, the thought was daunting. I needn’t have been nervous though, the kids were pleasant and polite, and generally a pleasure. I learned quite a lot. I hope they learned something too, but if nothing else I hope I sparked some curiosity here and there, and maybe sent someone down the path to an exciting career in STEM.

We began this module by exploring the most fundamental basics of rocket science. As eyes glassed over, I thought, to hell with it, and we moved on to the fun stuff. Making our first rockets. (Unfortunately the photos of this section have been lost)

I assemble the PVC rocket launcher while the kids got to decorate their rockets and cut out and add fins. Some had the bright idea to add nose cones for additional aerodynamics, but these were somewhat difficult to attach, seeing as I didn’t have a net with tabs at my disposal.

I had an old LEGO Mindstorms set, which we used to build a mars rover on the one day, adding bump detection. As I had no way of programming the device (it being from the early or perhaps even pre 2000’s), it’s functionality was rather limited.

To demonstrate the core principle of placing COG (centre of gravity) further towards the nose than the COP (centre of pressure), we first tried the paper stomp rockets without adding weight to the nose. Then again with additional weight. To be honest, the improvement was not extremely noticeable, the build quality of the rockets seemed to make the most noticeable difference. Our first launches were done vertically, and while this was fun, it was difficult to quantify the rockets’ success. Further launches were executed at a 45 degree angle and the success was measured by how far from the launch site the rocket landed.

From there, we explored other means of propulsion. The pressurised water bottle being rather popular, even more after a few launches because I got soaked when launching out my hand due to fin failure.

I gave a brief theoretical rundown on the science behind a Galileo telescope, and we built one out of large and small PVC piping, magnifying glasses, and when those results were less than extraordinary, a professional telescope eyepiece lens that I brought from home.

We made, and of course decorated a few balsa wood and skewer stick gliders, some flew surprisingly well. Others not so well.

The test launch before the main event. That recording of that video was entrusted to a student and comprises of just 3 seconds of shoes.

The main event had to be the model rocket launch. While not extremely educational, was certainly the highlight of the week. The rocket launched beautifully, and we heard the parachute deploy, but the sun was high, and bright and we couldn’t establish visual for several seconds. It was around that time that some wind picked up and by the time we saw the rocket floating down, it was going over the clubhouse building. We ran around the building, but couldn’t make it in time to see where it landed. That little rocket was never seen again.

Since then I have built my own rocket, with LED’s that blink for added retrievability.

This was the proposed itinerary:

  • Designing and building a Mars Rover – We’ll create a remote controlled vehicle that will allow us to explore wireless communications, movement using motors, and adding whatever the students come up with regarding what is necessary for an unmanned exploration vehicle.
  • Anti gravity device – We’ll create a miniature acoustic levitation device (this was unfortunately an unsuccessful experiment)
  • Paper Rockets – Demonstrating the fundamental laws behind rocket science by creating simple paper rockets and experimenting with different design alterations.
  • Water pump rockets – Furthering from the principals learned in the paper rockets.
  • Model Rocket launch – A real model rocket launch (to happen on the least windy of days)
  • Telescopes – We’ll build a telescope so earthlings can see what’s going on on Mars (not really, we can’t create such a powerful telescope, but it’s the thought that counts.
  • Introduction to aerofoils and aerodynamics – We’ll make glider planes that students can keep and should time allow for it, a remote control aeroplane.

What is motion design?

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Motion graphics are basically digital animations of text, illustrations and images, and sometimes (for additional effect) sound.

Motion designers take static content and transform it into content that’s difficult to forget and impossible to ignore.

Motion graphics can be used to evoke an emotional response from viewers (achieved by making static elements animate in such a way as to suggest they have personalities), or to demonstrate abstract concepts that would otherwise be difficult to convey, or even just for raw impact and attention grabbing.

This can be used effectively for a wide range of applications, from making your brand or product stand out from the rest, to holding attention at an important board meeting or during a keynote presentation, to making data easy to visualise (Information Design). Motion design can also be used to create a sense of flow within a user interface (interaction design).

There is no limit to what can be done with motion design… or where.

Motion graphics in the form of GIFs are especially powerful in this, the age of social media, as they fall under the ‘micro-content’ category. This constitutes creative content optimised for use on social media platforms. Supported across most platforms, you can now make your brand stand out in front of your target audience, ready to be noticed. It’s like being one of the first companies to have colour TV advertisements; except all your clients have colour televisions!

Brands of all sizes (from the individual, to the international),  looking to communicate through digital means can look to motion design to enhance:

  • Music videos
  • Promotional or crowd-source-campaign videos (as on Kickstarter)
  • Impact on social media platforms
  • Keynote presentations
  • User experience by using flowing user interface animation

People have become accustomed to static content, and largely ignore static online content. Motion graphics is there to help get your digital content noticed.

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