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Program Your Classmate

Objective

Students will write a "program" to teach their partners how to do a simple robotic task.

Materials

Notecards, pencils

Background

While humans can perform many tasks without thinking, robots require very specific instructions to carry out even the simplest task. Think about the steps you must complete to make toast: you must locate the bread, remove the twist tie from the bag, open the bag, reach into the bag, grab a piece of bread, remove the bread from the bag, and so on. Each of these steps needs to be programmed in advance for a robot, which can take pages and pages of code; once the program is written the robot can do the same repetitive job with high precision. Some robots are designed to make decisions on their own, like Mars rovers, and some are directly controlled by humans from a remote location, like sewer inspecting robots.

Procedure

Divide students into groups of two or three. Each group chooses a simple task to think about, like picking up an object or dancing the Hokey Pokey, and identify all the small steps needed to carry out the task. Challenge students to write a "program" that will be carried out by their classmates. Use the notecards to write down each step that must be carried out in the program.

Have the students test their programs on each other. Were any steps missed? If so, they should insert additional notecards with instructions into their program. If time allows, take volunteers to perform their program for the class. Remember – only actions that are written in the program can be performed.

Discussion/Extensions

What types of challenges does NASA face when using robots to explore Mars? (communication lag, etc.)



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