Lego, National Instruments, Tufts join to inspire future engineers
These aren't your mom and dad's Legos. In an era when software starts acting like objects, it was probably inevitable that objects—such as those colorful plastic blocks and figures—would start to take on some software-type characteristics.To spark the imaginations of K-12 students and perhaps help them explore engineering and science careers, Pitsco L...
These aren't your mom and dad's Legos. In an era when software starts acting like objects, it was probably inevitable that objects—such as those colorful plastic blocks and figures—would start to take on some software-type characteristics.
To spark the imaginations of K-12 students and perhaps help them explore engineering and science careers, Pitsco Lego Dacta (Pittsburg, Kan.), National Instruments (NI, Austin, Tex.), and Tufts University's College of Engineering (Boston, Mass.) recently joined to develop an educational program called Robolab. Offered to schools and teachers nationwide, Robolab combines Lego bricks and control software to allow students to design and build robotic inventions.
Students can use Robolab software to write computer programs on PCs or Macintosh computers, and then transfer them to a programmable Lego RCX brick. The system contains motors, gears, and sensors that can make the inventions start moving, stop, turn, rotate, reverse, and execute other robotic functions. Like their plastic-only predecessors, the combinations of Lego bricks and computer programs make potential student creations nearly limitless.
Besides the bricks and software, Robolab also includes a variety of curriculum support materials to help teachers and students learn to use the system. Robolab's ongoing K-12 curriculum can also give students new challenges each year.
Based on NI's LabView software, Robolab's graphical programming language was developed by Tufts, NI, and Lego Dacta. The software was further engineered for classroom use, and can help students learn basic computer programming, robotics, and automation skills.
"We chose LabView for Robolab because it's graphical programming language makes it easy to teach fundamental programming skills," says Chris Rogers, Tufts' associate professor of mechanical engineering. "LabView is a standard tool for scientists and engineers, but its simple graphical interface allows kids as young as kindergartners to use it easily."