AERobot (Affordable Education Robot)
Complete robot system and curriculum to inspire and help students learn
Robots are becoming popular education tools in middle and high schools, as well as youth summer programs, raising interest in programming, artificial intelligence, and robotics among students across the country.
While robots can be an effective and fun way to inspire students to learn about science, math, technology and their applications, they tend to be expensive. Specialized hardware, software, and complex assembly increase the cost of robots to levels that make them prohibitive for wide-scale adoption by schools.
The Wyss Solution
The Wyss educational robotics team is working to ignite a passion for science and technology among students at a young age by building robots that introduce the fundamentals of programming and controlling robots.
The Affordable Education Robot, better known as AERobot, was specifically designed as a low-cost robot to make it accessible to students and schools that otherwise could not afford to gain hands-on experience in robotics. Complete robot systems currently on the market range in cost from tens to hundreds of dollars each, but the AERobot incorporates advanced capabilities at a cost of just over $10, including assembly.
The AERobot team consists of Mike Rubenstein (Research Associate) who leads the effort and designed the robot and programming curriculum, Justin Werfel (Wyss ATT Staff) and Radhika Nagpal (Wyss Institute Core Faculty member).
AERobot won first or second place in all three of its categories in the 2014 AFRON Challenge to design low cost robotic systems for education in the developing world and is the basis for the "BugBots" course featured at STEM summer camp i2 Camp.
- Moving forward and backward on flat, smooth surfaces
- Turning in place in both directions
- Detecting the direction of incoming light
- Identifying distances using reflected infrared light
- Following lines and edges
AERobot’s hardware features are sufficient to help a student with no programming or robotics experience advance from a simple program that flashes an LED light, to understanding and implementing classic behaviors of mobile robots.
Five primary design features differentiate AERobot from other education robots and help keep its manufacturing and assembly costs low:
Unlike most motorized robots, AERobot uses a vibration motor, which is cheaper than a standard motor and does not require the additional hardware found in other robots such as gearboxes and wheels. AERobot is also equipped with optical sensors that cost less than most other sensors because they have no moving parts.
AERobot has a built-in USB connector that allows it to reprogram and recharge using a standard USB port. This interface alleviates the need for an external programmer and charger, which can double the cost of a complete system for robots in this price range.
The assembly cost for AERobot is cut in half by mounting all the components on a single side of the printed circuit board (PCB), which doubles as the main robot chassis. These surface mounted components are placed using a pick-and-place machine. All remaining assembly steps are simple and can be done by a student in a few minutes. This video shows how to assemble the 10-piece robot kit in four simple steps.
AERobot uses a graphical programming environment, which makes reprogramming easy for novice programmers. Using the computer software, students write programs by selecting different actions from the action panel and arranging them in the program creation panel.
The programming syntax works behind the scenes to generate the code from the graphical program, and is then compiled and downloaded when AERobot is plugged in to the computer.
A) Compile and program button, B) List of possible actions, C) Program creation panel, D) Automatically generated code panel.
The fifteen-lesson AERobot curriculum is designed to introduce elementary and high school students to the basics of programming, including program flow and logic, the use of sensors and actuators, and creating robot behaviors. Each lesson introduces a new skill, explains why the skill is useful, shows how it’s used, and presents a program that uses that skill. The complete AERobot curriculum can be found here.
- For programming examples and more detailed information about AERobot’s hardware, software, and curriculum, visit the AERobot homepage
- Visit Radhika Nagpal’s lab homepage at Harvard’s School of Applied Science and Engineering to learn about other projects the Self-Organizing Systems Research Group is developing
- To learn more about robotics at the Wyss Institute go to the Bioinspired Robotics Platform
Staff Scientist, Bioinspired Robotics