Excerpt from “Pint-Sized Engineers Bring Robots to Life” (link)
Hunter also got a hand from Shalom Ruben, a University of California Los Angeles Ph.D. candidate in engineering specializing in the field of controls, including robotics. Ruben also happens to be the fiancé of the elementary school’s occupational therapist Stefani Wiener, and when Wiener told him about the second-graders’ project, Ruben agreed to pitch in. “I think it’s great,” he said enthusiastically of the idea of bringing robotics to children at such a young age.
Ruben built a more sophisticated Mindstorms robot, still put together from a Legos kit but controlled through computer programming rather than a remote control joystick. The Mindstorms robots can be programmed in various ways; in this case, Ruben tricked his out with a light sensor, or eye, programmed to track a line drawn or taped to the floor by sensing patterns of “too light” or “too dark.” It is also equipped with an ultrasonic sensor to measure distance, letting the robot know, for example, when it is about to run into a wall or a person.
Hunter and Ruben will use the Mindstorm robot, which led off the Rally’s robot parade, to introduce the students to the concept of programming, the next step in robotics controls. “I’ll explain to them that their robots use their own brain and their own eyes because they use remote controls,” said Ruben. “This robot has its own eyes and its own brain and you teach it what to do. Then it makes decisions on its own.”