WINNETKA – What child doesn’t imagine playing with their own robot for a day? How awesome would it be to own a robot that will clean your room or set the table, or maybe even play a game?
While the robot that visited fourth graders at Greeley Elementary School from Oakton Community College’s robotics program wasn’t chatting with the students, they still thought it was pretty cool.
Professor Angelo Gero and a team of Oakton students shared Owl Capone with Greeley students on March 10, a robot they designed and programmed for the NASA Robotic Mining Competition that takes place at the Kennedy Space Center in Washington D.C.
The competition includes teams of undergraduate and graduate students from throughout the country that design excavator robots from scratch. Oakton is the only community college to participate and took second place last year. This year’s robot can lift around 30 pounds and was inspired from traditional excavators. But this is no ordinary machine, the robot’s brain is a raspberry pi — a tiny affordable computer that costs about $35 — and Oakton students used the Python language to program it.
Greeley students greeted the robot with excitement as Dr. Gero inspired them to get involved with STEAM activities. “You are part of the future and what is going to happen,” he said. “Someday some of you may build a robot from scratch too.” The students’ interest was apparent from their numerous questions, many of them quite sophisticated, about how the robot works.
Every student got a hands-on experience, as the controls were passed to each student to make the robot move around the floor. The students were interested to learn that the robot’s wheels were made from a 3D printer, something they had used in the maker-space at their school.
Mary Ellen Schulz, the Resource Center Director, was pleased the students were so inquisitive and was excited about the hands-on experience. “All of the prep we do in the maker-space, learning the basic coding is to do something like this,” she said.
The Oakton team was invited to Greeley after a group of Washburn students visited Oakton to promote girls in science. Maureen Miller, Director of Technology for the Winnetka schools heard about the robotics program and thought it related well to the district’s emphasis on STEAM. “There is a big focus on computer science for all now and well do that in a playful way,” she said.
Miller wants students who are learning very basic coding skills to see first hand how those skills can be taken to another level. “This is an opportunity for students to see what it can get to,” she said.