Robot Kit

Randy Fang ...

In this assignment we were given a science kit containing the parts to make an electronic moving robot. The kit was aimed at younger students (beginner experience: ages 10 and up), who could benefit a lot from the scientific concepts presented in the kit. Although the kit was very well documented and very informative, we believe it fell short of the mark, with the desired goal being a fun learning experience.

The first, and most major, detractor from the kit was something that we experienced right from the start. Most of the pieces were very, very small (less than 1/8" diameter!) and were very easy to lose and very difficult to assemble. In fact, it took three and a half hours of diligent assembly before the robot was even close to operational. We think this would be as big a discouragement to kids as it was to us. Many of the early steps are menial tasks involving screwing small nuts and bolts together to set up the framework of the robot. This was the most time consuming part of building the robot and since we lost interest in it, we think that younger people would have an even harder time to get to the parts that are interesting and scientifically relevant.

The second major detractor from the kit as a learning experience was that the scientific information was included at the end of the instruction manual, where it was out of the context. It explained why pieces were put together a certain way and most students wouldn't bother to read it, since it was at the end. It was also both boring and too technically confusing for students who haven't taken physics (which is usually taught as a Junior or Senior level high school class). The material included a lot of interesting material that might not be covered in a generic science class such as the use of gears in transferring torque and the internal workings of a motor. If better presented, and presented in context, the material would be quite informative for younger students.

The third major detractor from the kit was that the final product is almost useless till every nut was put on very tight. In fact, the robot stops (!) moving after about 10 seconds of use because the nuts that hold the gears in place have become loose and they no longer touch each other. After a lot of hard work with small pieces, the robot breaking after moving about two feet is disheartening to say the least.

Although we were excited and motivated to assemble a robot when we started, by the time we finished it almost seemed futile, especially since it didn't work very well. There are many things that we would do to improve the kit, both in scientific value and from an enjoyment point of view. The first of these is to have most of the parts assembled ahead of time, particularly the screws and nuts and other small parts which are all put on one panel. They could be changed to pieces of connecting plastic instead of screws and nuts. Only the pieces that were relevant to the scientific part of the robot would be loose pieces (these also happen to be the pieces that are larger and so would become lost less frequently). This would also probably help out the stability of the robot, as there would be less loose pieces to unscrew due to the motor's vibration. The next thing to change would be the instruction manual. We would like to see the scientific information included with the assembly of those specific parts. Another nice touch would be to include some kind of embedded processor or controller that would let the robot, when turned on, find the ball and chase it.

In the end, this kit probably requires too much patience and possibly adult supervision in order to assemble. There are a lot of small pieces that are awkward to work with and tend to get lost or to fall apart during the operation of the robot. Although scientific content specific to how the robot worked was included, it wasn't included in context. Most kids would probably be so tired from assembling the robot that they would put the manual aside and go to play with their new toy (until it stopped working) and never pick up the instructions again. In the end we believe it has too many flaws and falls short of a desirable learning experience.