Robots are both fascinating objects for the general public and devices whose conception, understanding and pro- gramming involve many fields. This unique combination makes them an ideal tool for introducing science and technology to children. This paper presents the outcome of a programming workshop held on the occasion of the 2011 EPFL Robotics Festival. This workshop introduced programming using the robot “Thymio II”. The participants enjoyed this workshop very much, and their attitudes suggest that the public is attracted to such events out of interest rather than pure fun or educational concerns. Children appreciated the supervision, characterized by a high staff-per-child ratio of 1/3. We also show that in an hour of tutorial, children were able to acquire concepts such as the sensor or the loading of a program on the robot because they practised these enough. More theoretical and less practised concepts, such as the sensory-motor loop or the programming details, were not well understood. These findings now enable us to create better edutainment material.
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The Thymio II robot was designed to be used by teachers in their classrooms for a wide range of activities and at all levels of the curriculum, from very young children to the end of high school. Although the educationally oriented design of this innovative robot was successful and made it possible to distribute more than 800 Thymio robots in schools with a large majority in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, it was not sufficient to significantly raise the number of teachers using robot technology in their teaching after three years of commercialization. After an introduction and a first section on the design of this educational robot, this paper presents some results of a sociological analysis of the benefits and blockages identified by teachers in using robots, or not, with their pupils.
Technology is playing an increasing role in our society. Therefore it becomes important to educate the general public, and young generations in particular, about the most common technologies. In this context, robots are excellent education tools, for many reasons: (i) robots are fascinating and attract the attention of all population classes, (ii) because they move and react to their environment, robots are perceived as close to living beings, which make people attracted and attached to them, (iii) robots are multidisciplinary systems and can illustrate technological principles in electronics, mechanics, computer and communication sciences, and (iv) robots have many applications ﬁelds: medical, industrial, agricultural, safety … While several robots exist on the market and are used for education, entertainment or both, none ﬁts with the dream educational tool: promoting creativity and learning, entertaining, cheap and powerful. We addressed this goal by developing the Thymio robot and distributing it during workshops over two years. This paper describes the design principles of the robot, the educational context, and the analysis made with 65 parents after two years of use. We conclude the paper by outlining the speciﬁcations of a new form of educational robot.
For four years a robotics festival has taken place at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), in Switzerland. As the number of visitors has rapidly grown from a few thousands to a dozen thousands, it gives an opportunity to investigate who is attending this event and which impact can be obtained in terms of education and motivation toward understanding science and technology. In the 2011 edition of the festival, a large survey was carried out, collecting data from 3423 visitors. The analysis of the collected data gives an idea about the profile of the people attending the event and the key factors impacting the acceptance of science and technology. Findings show that people of all ages and especially children and families have been attracted. More men than women attended the festival and visitors tended to have completed higher education. Overall, people appreciated that the event gave them the opportunity to make themselves a picture of robotics and some teenagers got encouraged to learn more about it. We conclude by presenting our lessons learned and make suggestions to help others with organizing public robotic events.
We study cooperative navigation for robotic swarms in the context of a general event-servicing scenario. In the scenario, one or more events need to be serviced at specific locations by robots with the required skills. We focus on the question of how the swarm can inform its members about events, and guide robots to event locations. We propose a solution based on delay-tolerant wireless communications: by forwarding navigation information between them, robots cooperatively guide each other towards event locations. Such a collaborative approach leverages on the swarm’s intrinsic redundancy, distribution, and mobility. At the same time, the forwarding of navigation messages is the only form of cooperation that is required. This means that the robots are free in terms of their movement and location, and they can be involved in other tasks, unrelated to the navigation of the searching robot. This gives the system a high level of flexibility in terms of application scenarios, and a high degree of robustness with respect to robot failures or unexpected events. We study the algorithm in two different scenarios, both in simulation and on real robots. In the first scenario, a single searching robot needs to find a single target, while all other robots are involved in tasks of their own. In the second scenario, we study collective navigation: all robots of the swarm navigate back and forth between two targets, which is a typical scenario in swarm robotics. We show that in this case, the proposed algorithm gives rise to synergies in robot navigation, and it lets the swarm self-organize into a robust dynamic structure. The emergence of this structure improves navigation efficiency and lets the swarm find shortest paths.
The market of domestic service robots, and especially vacuum cleaners, has kept growing during the past decade. According to the International Federation of Robotics, more than 1 million units were sold worldwide in 2010. Currently, there is no in-depth analysis of the energetic impact of the introduction of this technology on the mass market. This topic is of prime importance in our energy-dependant society. This study aims at identifying key technologies leading to the reduction of the energy consumption of a domestic mobile robot, by exploring the design space using technologies issued from the robotic research field, such as the various localization and navigation strategies. This approach is validated through an in-depth analysis of seven vacuum cleaning robots. These results are used to build a global assessment of the influential parameters. The major outcome is the assessment of the positive impact of both the ceiling-based visual localization and the laser-based localization approaches.
Search and rescue, autonomous construction, and many other semi-autonomous multi-robot applications can benefit from proximal interactions between an operator and a swarm of robots. Most research on proximal interaction is based on explicit communication techniques such as gesture and speech. This study proposes a new implicit proximal communication technique to approach the problem of robot selection. We use electroencephalography (EEG) signals to select the robot at which the operator is looking. This is achieved using steady-state visually evoked potential (SSVEP), a repeatable neural response to a regularly blinking visual stimulus that varies predictively based on the blinking frequency. In our experiments, each robot was equipped with LEDs blinking at a different frequency, and the operator’s SSVEP neural response was extracted from the EEG signal to detect and select the robot without requiring any conscious action by the user. This study systematically investigates several parameters affecting the SSVEP neural response: blinking frequency of the LED, distance between the robot and the operator, and color of the LED. Based on these parameters, we study two signal processing approaches and critically analyze their performance on 10 subjects controlling a set of physical robots. Our results show that despite numerous artifacts, it is possible to achieve a recognition rate higher than 85% on some subjects, while the average over the ten subjects was 75%.
We present the IniRobot pedagogical kit, conceived and deployed within French and Swiss primary schools for the initiation to robotics and computer science. It provides a microworld for learning, and takes an enquiry-based educational approach, where kids are led to construct their understanding through practicing an active investigation methodology within teams. It is based on the use of the Thymio II robotic platform. The paper presents the detailed pedagogical objectives and a first measure of results showing that children acquired several robotics-related concepts.