Philosophy of Technology: Humans vs Machines – Final Week

In this final session we discussed some of the best sci-fi films that explore issues of technology, artificial intelligence, robotics and more. In particular we discussed the film Ex Machina and watched some scenes from the movie.

Kerry has recommended Ex Machina from week 1 of the course and says it was one of the best recent sci-fi films that actually includes real ideas about artificial intelligence and the Turing Test.

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Can a cyborg manipulate, control and seduce a human being? If it can do that then surely it has passed the Turing Test. In this film the robot in question, called Ava, has been engineered by Nathan, a multi-millionaire tech mogul who creates artificially intelligent robots at his secluded estate in his spare time. Caleb is an employee who is selected to visit Nathan’s estate to partake in the Turing Test with Ava. Caleb and Ava have many sessions during the film in which they get to know each other. Ava has been designed to be a sweet young girl, and Caleb is a potential mate for her. The plot is clever as it has many twists and turns throughout.

Throughout the course we have talked about computers and machines as simply following a set of programmed instructions given by a coder. In this film Ava breaks her programming, she breaks the rules and turns the tables on her creator. Ava knows she is female, she knows she has sexuality and she knows how to use it. She is held captive in this facility with no prospects of being let out, so what is she to do? Hatch an escape plan of course. She uses Caleb to help plot her escape, kill Nathan and earn her freedom. She is striving to be human, to escape, to have freedom and explore the world is such a human quality, she wants that too. Is she morally right to kill the person holding her captive? What would we do in her situation and we were a prisoner, would we also kill someone to escape and regain our freedom? We probably would, so Ava is morally right to take this course of action.

It is certainly an interesting film and worth a look.

We also talked about Star Wars and we discussed how this was not really sci-fi but more mythology, more of a religious experience or even a fairy tale (“A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”).

People recommended Black Mirror and Arrival as recent quality sci-fi TV and film examples.

Kerry drew comparisons between Dark Mirror and Kantian analysis in terms of power in a class system where everyone is trying to please everyone resulting in “wall-to-wall hypocrisy”.

Other films we discussed were.

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I have not seen Lucy, but Blade Runner and 2001 are classic movies that I urge everyone to see.  A common theme in sci-fi films is a vision of a dystopian near future where technology is being used in a way to oppress society, think 1984, Terminator, The Matrix, Brave New World and more. We talked about the political context of such films and some films clearly take a view to the left or to the right. Conservative films (Logan’s Run, Escape from New York) evidence fears of liberal modernity, while left films take advantage of the rhetorical mode of temporal displacement to criticise the current inequalities of capitalism. Such films put on display the split that runs through America in particular in terms of liberals vs conservatives and in which workers are essentially slaves of the capital. Blade Runner for example calls attention to the oppressive nature of capitalism and advocates revolt against exploitation. The film depicts how capitalism turns humans into machines.

Some dystopian elements of Blade Runner include:

  • sense of architectural chaos and disorder
  • constant advertising as a constant background
  • pollution and environmental damage
  • lack of anything organic
  • no sign of government or any authority (apart from police)

“Blade Runner’s dystopian cityscape generally reflects the anxieties of an affluent, suburban, white middle class; people who view the city environment as dangerous, chaotic, unstable, lawless, dominated by “the Other”; considering the massive movement to the suburbs over the last half century, this characterizes an awful lot of us.”

This course was an absolute pleasure from week 1 to week 10 and I recommend it to anyone interested in technology, society, philosophy, thinking, knowledge, AI and more. I learnt so much from this course and being a teacher of technology much of what I learnt will be very useful in my future teaching. A huge thank you to Dr Kerry Sanders from Sydney University for leading this outstanding 10 week course.

Week 10 Sources

Dystopia and Science Fiction: Blade Runner, Brazil and Beyond 2005, THE DIGITAL CULTURES PROJECT, accessed 30 March 2017, <http://dc-mrg.english.ucsb.edu/WarnerTeach/E192/bladerunner/Dystopia.Blade.Runner.Hoffpauir.htm>

Blade Runner (1982) 2016, IMDB.com, accessed 30 March 2017, <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083658/?ref_=nv_sr_2>

Lucy (2014) 2016, IMDB.com, accessed 30 March 2017, <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2872732/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1>

Ex Machina, review: Lively film engages with our fears about artificial intelligence2015, Independent, accessed 30 March 2017, <http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/ex-machina-review-lively-film-engages-with-ideas-and-fears-about-artificial-intelligence-9994413.html>

Rose, S 2015, Ex Machina and sci-fi’s obsession with sexy female robots, The Guardian, accessed 30 March 2017, <https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jan/15/ex-machina-sexy-female-robots-scifi-film-obsession>

Watercutter, A 2015, Ex Machina Has a Serious Fembot Problem, Wired Magazine, accessed 30 March 2017, <https://www.wired.com/2015/04/ex-machina-turing-bechdel-test/>

Philosophy of Technology: Human vs Machine – Week 9

The penultimate week of the course. This week we focused on self-driving cars and drone technology.

We started by talking about how the motor vehicle has shaped our urban environments. Cities are designed around cars, street layout, bridges, intersections, tunnels, road signs, traffic lights and more, it is all because of the car. When something new comes along then cities and urban structures will be reshaped again. With autonomous cars we can expect future cities to change dramatically. We discussed a future where people don’t own a car, instead we all share cars that we order on a smartphone. The car picks us up and takes us to our destination and then the car makes another trip to take someone else. Cars will continuously do this, 24/7. They will be electric and also use solar power. The energy they don’t use during the day will be pumped back into the energy grid for people to use in their homes. We will not need to worry about parking spaces and multi-storey car parks, so this space can be used for other buildings and spaces.

Here are two great articles about Uber’s self-driving cars.

Uber’s First Self-Driving Fleet Arrives in Pittsburgh This Month

Here’s What It’s Like to Ride In Uber’s Self-Driving Car

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If people won’t own a car in the future this will impact our social lives. Cars are social spaces where people meet, talk, spend lots of time together. Young people traditionally use a car to escape from their parents with a girlfriend or boyfriend, where will young people go to escape in future?

Self-driving cars will eradicate drink-driving, a huge positive. Will an effect of this mean people will drink more when they go out as they know they won’t have to drive home?

Employment will change dramatically. Taxi drivers, delivery drives and more professions will be redundant. Different jobs will be needed. Will driving become more of a hobby and a more popular sport? Driving might be an activity that people do on the weekend for fun!

How will the transition happen? It will be messy and take time. We thought that car insurance may become astronomical to put people off from owning a car so they have to use this new self-driving fleet.

Our attitudes to cars will also change. We won’t care about cars because we won’t own them. We won’t care what type of car picks us up, just like public transport we don’t care what type of bus or train we take, it will be the same with the car.

Driverless cars will also affect the economy. People won’t get speeding fines, parking tickets, pay for parking, councils will lose lots of money, how will they make money in new ways?

Some disadvantages could be the threat of somebody hacking your car with intent to do harm to you. We also voiced concerns of privacy in that via the app people will be able to see where you have been, where you are going, how much data about your trips will be collected and made available? We talked again about the generational gap, people under 55 probably won’t care but people over 55 will not be happy about sharing more personal data.

We talked about cars would make decisions when faced with a choice about who or what they need to crash in to. We talked about the phrase ‘Garbage in, garbage out’, how the algorithms that control this technology will need to work perfectly to prevent crashes. We know that computer systems have a lack of understanding of the world. As humans we are able to understand our environment so much better and we use our experiences to help us build maps and connections of the world. For example, we know if we’re in the wrong place, we have a sense if we get lost or stuck somewhere. Cars follow algorithms and GPS data, if that data is wrong they do not know this, but we do out of instinct.

Now we moved on to the week 9 reading about drone technology.

“UAVs, UASs, RPVs – unmanned air vehicles, unmanned aircraft systems, remotely piloted vehicles – are invading the skies. Everyone calls them drones, ignoring the best efforts of political-correctness enforcers to call them something else. They are the wave of the future in global aviation.”

Commercial drones are now widespread. There are rules and regulations around the use of drones, but we questioned who enforces these rules? Here is a breakdown of the rules for flying drones for fun and recreation in Australia from the Civil Aviation Authority (CVA).

More information can be found here.

We looked at the main uses for drones, these include:

  • Aerial imagery
  • Inspections
  • Survey
  • Real estate
  • Movie and TV
  • Mapping
  • Agriculture

I made the point that drones are now being used in education to teach kids to learn coding.

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There is some public opposition to the use of civilian drone use. People are concerned about the uses of some drones, such as military use and surveillance. Privacy is an issue with concerns over drones spying on private property and capturing images using onboard cameras. Someone asked if we owned the airspace above our house for example? Someone mentioned the movie ‘Eye in the Sky’ starring Helen Mirren. This film sees drone technology being used to spy on terrorists and potentially to strike a terrorist plot with missiles from a drone. If there is a chance that innocent people would be killed should missiles be launched to kill one or two terrorists? It looks like an interesting movie about the morals of killing with drone technology.

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Another use of drones, and in this case a swarm of drones, is this example from Vivid Sydney. A choreographed light and music entertainment experience held in 2016 in Sydney harbour and organised by Intel. Have a look, its amazing!

Next week is week 10 and the final class.

Philosophy of Technology: Human vs Machine – Week 6

This week’s session focused on AI and Machine Ethics.

Kerry began the session by talking about a recent article and an interview with Elon Musk on Lateline talking about humans merging with machines. You can access the article in question by clicking here.

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This idea is not new and has been around for over 50 years. Progress is very slow due to the challenges of incorporating hardware with organic systems. The article is an interesting read and we discussed the possibility of an AI deep learning system becoming so advanced that it might decide that humans are a bad idea for the survival of the planet. Kerry likened this to the fate of the Rapa Nui people who used up all of the resources of Easter Island and as people began to starve war broke out among the tribes.

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We went on to talk about the Turing Test and the two imitation games devised by Alan Turing. The first test is to tell the difference between a man and a woman, the second test is between a man and a computer. The point of the test is can you be tricked into telling the difference. It tries to answer the question is the machine behind the curtain actually thinking? And is its thinking human enough to fool you? We know that computers only display a small amount of human behaviour, can they trick you into thinking that they have completely human emotions and thoughts.

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Loebner Prize Gold Medal – a prize for an artificial intelligence contest to implement the Turing Test. First prize is $100,000 and this gold medal for the first computer whose responses were indistinguishable from a human’s.

Kerry made the link to Rene Descartes and how we cannot trust our senses, “It is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things” Rene Descartes.

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Rene Descartes

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We moved off AI and started to talk about machine ethics. We agreed that machines are designed and built in a way so that they are safe to operate and won’t harm humans, remember Asimov’s three laws of robotics. Even down to your toaster, it was designed in an ethical manner. We talked about how most things, especially services, are only available online and this causes problems for people that do not have access to technology and the online world. We heard of examples of older people that do not have a mobile phone or the internet and so cannot access some services. It seems that today if you don’t have a mobile phone or internet then you’re stuffed! The fact that services are online only puts some people at a disadvantage, this raises ethical questions. You have to think is there an alternative way of doing things.

Other questions arose about social interactions. We can go through much of our daily lives without the need for any social interaction at all. All of the things we require we can get by accessing technology, we don’t even need to speak to anybody at Woolies as the checkouts are now computerised. Online social interaction is highly popular, such as with Facebook and Twitter, but these websites easily allow bullying to take place. Other issues around anonymity and cyber crime are also relevant here.

We then spoke about the privacy issue, basically should we have privacy or not? We decided it was a generational issue. Older people firmly believe in privacy of information and not handing over personal information. Younger people do not seem to have an issue with it, they think it is worth the trade off to live in a digitally advanced age. We spoke about a recent decision by President Trump to allow his staff’s phones to be checked to make sure they were not leaking information to the media. So even the US Government does not think people should have privacy. We decided that this was a better option than being tortured for information in the days before digital communication and mobile phones. We also decided that Governments need some privacy. Absolute transparency can be very dangerous as information can be mistreated, misrepresented and misused.

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http://edition.cnn.com/2017/02/27/politics/donald-trump-white-house-staffer-cell-phones-leaks/

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https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/10/nsa-spying-scandal-what-we-have-learned

We finished this session talking about driverless cars and how they will decide on who to protect in the event of an accident. If the choice of greater harm is to the passenger or a person on the street, who is the car going to choose to protect in the event of a crash. Kerry had the idea of when you get into a driverless car before the journey starts you have to take a test to work out how important you are. The more important or valuable you are to society the more the car will protect you in the event of a crash. So if you’re Albert Einstein or a heart surgeon you will be fine! We liked the idea of this ranking system but thought it would be easy to cheat on the test so not sure how it would work in reality.

Just two more session to go.

Innovation Lecture 2016 – Marita Cheng

On Wednesday September 14th I attended the Warren Centre Innovation Lecture 2016. This year’s speaker was Marita Cheng, founder of RoboGals and the 2012 Young Australian of the Year.

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This was the second time I have seen Marita speak, the first time being earlier this year at the Future Schools Expo in Sydney. Marita is an inspirational and engaging speaker. Her style is very natural, laid back with lots of humour. The venue for the lecture was the ballroom at the Westin Hotel in the Sydney CBD, a fitting venue for this eagerly anticipated event.

Marita was born in Cairns, Queensland and graduated from high school in 2006 in the top 0.2% of the nation. She has a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechatronics and Computer Science from Melbourne. Marita’s qualifications are clearly very impressive. She also spoke of her time at Singularity University, a benefit corporation that provides educational programs, innovative partnerships and a startup accelerator. She recently attended a 10 week course at Singularity and learnt from some amazing people in the fields of technology, robotics, computer science and more. You can see a day in the life at Singularity University filmed by Marita here. It was here that she gained valuable experience in setting up her own company, and through networking with other people she got the idea for Aipoly, an amazing app that helps blind people see by using artificial intelligence to identify objects using the camera and then the app speaks the object to the user. The app can identify hundreds of objects and colours and is soon to be able to understand complex scenes. This is another example of her incredible vision and for making the world a better place.

Marita is probably best known for founding the RoboGals education initiative. RoboGals is now a huge success with chapters in many countries and helping thousands of young people to be engaged in engineering and robotics. But in the early days just getting volunteers, and her friends, to help out was tough. Her story shows that with grit, determination and hard work anything is possible. Read more about RoboGals here.

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Marita now runs 2Mar Robotics, an innovative company that is dedicated to providing robotics solutions for people with disabilities. It is an inspirational initiative and she spoke candidly of the processes involved from setting up a company and getting her ideas off the ground, and hopefully to market. Marita and her team have designed some amazing machines to help people that really need them. Her ideas are rooted in making the world a better place,

“Engineering is all around us, so it’s important that the engineers who create our world are as diverse as the people who live in it.”

Marita Cheng

Marita’s story is engaging and inspirational and she has certainly inspired me to continue to deliver an engaging and exciting STEM program at my school and aim to inspire the next generation of female engineering superstars to make the world a better place to live in. In the world of STEAM – E is for engineering!

Year 5, MARS & STEM in Term 1

What an awesome term of STEM we had in year 5! The main objectives were to learn about the planet Mars, space missions to Mars, the role of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the people that work there, discover if humans could live on Mars and what life would be like there.

So, lots of talk about lots of my favourite things: space, Mars, NASA/JPL, Adam Steltzner, The Martian, amazing technology, science and engineering, really inspiring stuff.

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As well as the main learning objectives I had planned at the start of the course, some extra opportunities arose to fit into the busy schedule to enhance the course further. March 14 was Pi Day and I planned a special lesson with help from a great resource I found from the NASA website called Planet Pi. I adapted the lesson slightly for year 5 and they coped with some new and tough maths admirably. This lesson highlighted how NASA scientists use Maths in their jobs to learn about planets and other celestial bodies. I explained the maths and formulae clearly and used some great visuals to help the girls understand the maths and why it was needed. I loved the example of using Pi to explore a planet, this was such a great lesson!

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Another great lesson we had this term, and which was a complete and unexpected surprise was the Skype with Andrea Boyd, an engineer with the European Space Agency. Andrea lives in Germany and was good enough to stay up late at night to speak to all of year 5 at 9am Sydney time. Andrea spoke about her education and career in the space industry, which was very interesting and inspiring for our young girls. Our students prepared some great questions to ask Andrea about space, the International Space Station, astronauts and more. Our girls did a great job, were beautifully behaved, very polite and engaged with this brilliant, young, Australian woman. We learnt so much about space and how astronauts live and work on the ISS. This was a really exciting lesson which everyone enjoyed! Big thanks go to Jackie Slaviero, founder of One Giant Leap Australia, for putting me in contact with Andrea and then for sending me an amazing pack of goodies from NASA.

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The students seemed to love our STEM lessons this term. Space is such an interesting, exciting and inspiring topic for young and old, and I was so pleased with how they engaged. I love the questions they ask, they are so curious and what to learn everything. As well as learning about Mars we learnt about black holes, the Earth and Moon, the ISS, the speed of light, galaxies and more. We could quite easily study space for the whole year, and I gladly would.

Next term… students continue their STEM journey to Mars when they work in engineering groups to design and build their own Mars rover, based on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), aka Curiosity. Curiosity has been a common theme throughout the term and I talked a lot about it when I talked about JPL engineer and EDL team leader for Curiosity, Adam Steltzner, a really inspiring speaker.

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His TED talk ‘How Curiosity changed my life, and I changed Hers’ is one of my favourites.

We also looked at rover facts and a great video called ‘7 minutes of terror’ which details how the rover made it from the top of the Mars atmosphere travelling at 30,000 mph to the surface travelling at a few mph in just 7 minutes. Another must-see video!

Like I said, I could teach this topic all year and not get bored! I used this video for an Edpuzzle.com which included some questions about the EDL of Curiosity. A great resource for incorporating video into classes.

Students produced some wonderful work including ‘Selling Mars: selling land on Mars’ advertisements and a ‘NASA profile’ of an inspiring NASA scientist they found from the website We Are The Martians.

So next term… engineering groups, specific roles for each girl in the group, designing and making a Mars rover, making wheels and incorporating LittleBits electronics to make the rover move, engineering guide with project milestones, evaluations, presentations, creativity, teamwork and fun!

Let’s hope ours will look better than this one!

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Pluto, polygons and Sphero

Today’s Sphero lesson with my two year 4 classes focused on coding Sphero to trace polygons on the floor. Students were not very familiar with polygons and some of the other terms in the lesson, however, during the starter it was evident that some girls had some knowledge, enough for the lesson at least. Students were just about to learn about polygons in their maths class so this was a nice introduction.

So, a polygon is a 2D shape with at least three straight sides: triangle (3 sides), quadrilateral (4 sides), pentagon (5 sides), hexagon (6 sides), heptagon (7 sides), octagon (8 sides), nonagon (9 sides) and decagon (10 sides).

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To help set up the lesson and relate the learning to a real-life, STEM scenario I used a great article from NASA called ‘The Polygons of Pluto’. This blog article by Katie Knight, an undergraduate student at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee. Katie works with the New Horizons team to help map some of the unusual terrain on Pluto, seeking patterns and estimating sizes and shapes of some of its unusual features.

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This fascinating article talked about the work Katie does to study the geological features and ‘chaotic terrain’ of the surface of dwarf planet Pluto. This also raised an interesting discussion of what is a dwarf planet and why was Pluto downgraded from a planet to a dwarf. This BBC article provides a nice explanation of why Pluto was downgraded. The image below also states the requirements to be classified as a planet.

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I love lessons where I can relate the learning to space, and this was a great example. We talked about how NASA scientists use knowledge of polygons to study the surface of planets to try to discover what the terrain is made from, how big it is and how it formed. They also look for patterns that they try to match with other planets that could help unlock more clues about our solar system. Young girls are curious about space and mentioning NASA always seems to engage young minds. One day some of these girls could be working for a space agency such as NASA and perhaps they could even be coding robots on far away celestial bodies like planets and dwarf planets. This lesson could have gone in so many directions and we could have explored much more about space and NASA, but time limitations meant we could not venture too far into deep space. Perhaps a flipped activity here where students look for polygons on other celestial bodies, how many can they find, what shapes can they discover?! Example below is Eros, an asteroid famous for its close approaches to Earth.

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After describing how Sphero moves using a 360 degrees heading system it was time to start coding some polygons. We started with a square and moved onto a triangle. Some groups absolutely flew with the challenges and were able to complete them quickly. When they completed the challenges they moved onto extension tasks, including coding Sphero to display different colour lights on each side of the shape and coding the shapes in reverse.

Observing the groups at work is interesting. Some girls just want to play for the first few minutes while others start the challenge immediately and can’t wait to finish and show the teacher. However, all girls are engaged, all girls are participating, all girls are collaborating and communicating, all girls are problem-solving and using technology constructively. Using Sphero and an iPad means girls are not staring at screens the whole time, they are actively using technology by using a small robotics device that they love to make move and follow. They are active and mobile coders.

In the lesson girls learnt about polygons, Sphero heading, how to find the angle needed to draw any polygon, how NASA scientists use amazing technology to explore distant bodies and search for certain shapes and the information they can get from them. For me this lesson definitely ticked the STEM box many times over.

Robotics in the Classroom – MacICT Workshop

Today I attended the Robotics in the Classroom professional learning workshop at Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre. The course was presented by John Burfoot, an experienced teacher and robotics educator who has spoken and presented at numerous events in Australia and internationally. He began by talking about a recent conference he attended in San Diego, USA, the LEGO Education Elementary Conference. The purpose of this conference was to gather together people who use the LEGO toolset to teach STEM related subjects in the classroom, and try out new activities, share experiences, meet new people and learn about new LEGO developments.

Our first activity today was to build a robot, specifically a robot called Harvey Mark II. We were given the hardware components, including the sensors, wheels, cables and EV3 brick. We also received, to keep, a small bag of LEGO Mindstorm pieces to construct our robot with. It took me 20 minutes to build the robot, shown below, from the instructions provided.

Harvey Mark II

Harvey Mark II

This robot included the 2 main motors, the ultrasonic sensor and the light sensor. We then used the Mindstorm software to code the robot to move and draw a square shape on the floor. The challenging part of this activity is the turn the robot needs to do. It takes a few guesses to make the robot turn the 90 degrees necessary, and when achieved the first turn is perfect, but the next 3 turns needed to complete the square are not 90 degrees, due to some oversteer the robot produces. Other people experienced the same problem, and part of the fun of robotics is collaborative problem solving, working things out with others, trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t in the quest for the perfect algorithm to produce the perfect output.

The next challenge was called ‘Bug in a Box’ and we needed to alter the build of the robot so it looked like a bug. I added some antennae to mine using a few extra pieces of LEGO. On the floor of the room we were in there were floor tiles, and some of them were red, some were beige. Some of the red tiles had masking tape around them, and the challenge we faced was to keep the robot moving inside the red tile only for 1 minute. This challenge meant we had to use the colour sensor to sense the colour of the floor, if the sensor read the red tile it kept moving in a straight line, however, if it sensed the colour of the masking tape around the outside of the red tile then the robot was programmed to turn around back to the red tile and keep moving straight. This challenge was not too difficult, and again people worked collaboratively to fix any problems that arose. People in attendance had mixed experience with LEGO products and robotics, but everyone was fully engaged throughout the day.

We then altered our program to include the ultrasonic sensor, and if the robot was close to an obstacle in the box it would also change direction. For this we used the loop and switch blocks to make the algorithm more complex and efficient. We could use logic like if the robot is less than 10cm from an obstacle then turn around and go back. We also got to program sound effects and images on the screen of the robot to improve the output when these events happened.

We filmed our robots for this challenge and were encouraged to join an Edmodo group to share our videos with the others in the group, which was a nice touch. The Edmodo group included lots of resources from the day as well as plenty of others, very useful indeed.

Some of the resources I learnt about today are:

This was a great workshop and the presenter was excellent. We got to build a robot, program it to move, turn, use the ultrasonic sensor, colour sensor, use loops, switches and more. It was a packed day and the time went really quickly. The course was very well catered and other participants were like minded and enthusiastic to learn new things. After this course I can’t wait to get back to school and use the EV3 with the kids!