Students simulate robotic end effectors by using a variety of pliers to try tying shoes.
Shoes with laces; variety of pliers (needle nose, blunt nose, channel locks, etc.), tongs, or other grasping tools; stopwatch (optional)
Robot arms are useful for doing industrial work, but they must be properly equipped for their jobs. The part at the end of a robot arm that does the work is called an end effector. End effectors are used to grasp, weld, spray paint, aim a camera, or almost anything else you can think of.
Divide the students into small groups making sure that some of the students are wearing shoes with laces. Distribute two sets of pliers or tongs to each group.
Instruct the groups to untie their shoes and use the provided tools to retie the laces. It's not as easy as it sounds! Students wearing shoes without laces will need to tie a partner's shoes.
Why is it harder to tie shoe laces with pliers than your hands? Many students will say it is because they cannot feel the laces, others may say they need more fingers to be successful. Our hands are our end effectors, and they are used for almost every task we complete. What makes our hands so useful? (Nerves for feeling, opposable thumb)
Have the students design and sketch a robot to tie shoes. How many arms do the designs have? What do the end effectors look like?
Challenge students to tie the shoes in pairs, with each student using one set of pliers. Is it easier or harder to work this way? What challenges might a programmer face when making robots work together?