Review: Obstacle Avoiding Robot Kit

Obstacle Avoiding Robot, Programs, Reviews

Robot Basics:

  • What is it? Assemble a robot that uses sensors to detect and travel away from obstacles
  • What’s in the Box? Paper body components, motor assembly, wire, and double-sided tape
  • How Much? $15.99 at MakerShed
  • Age Range? Ages eight and up
  • How Did We Acquire it? ILEAD-USA Grant

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    Ideas for Use

    Because a large part of the experience with this robot is assembling it, this would be a good kit for one or two kids, or as part of a station-style robotics program.

    Time Involved

    It took three and a half hours (including a lunch break) to mostly assemble the kit.

    One-time or Recurring Program

    Assembling the kit is a one-time activity, as it’s made of cardboard and held together in places with tape. It could not be easily disassembled and reassembled. Once built, it could be used again and again durability may be a limiting factor.

    Extension Activities

    You could set up different courses for the obstacle-avoiding robot to avoid.

    Skills You Need

    You need a great deal of patience and ability to work with tiny parts, but the instructions are detailed enough that no prior electronics expertise is necessary.

    Other Tools You Need.

    Batteries (2 AA) are not included. Although everything needed for assembly was included in the box, we ended up also using our own double-sided tape and some extra wire.

    Good Stuff

    This is extremely appealing for kids who are into tinkering or are looking for a challenge.

    Frustrations

    So many frustrations. It contains so many tiny parts, the double-sided tape provided was not sticky enough, the wires provided were not long enough to connect what needed to be connected, and in the end the robot is made of cardboard, so you know your efforts are not going to something of enduring value. After three and a half hours of assembly time, it still does not actually run; we’re going to have to work on that another day.

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Ending Thoughts/Observations

My department head looked at this robot and said, “I would not recommend this as a purchase.” However, the twelve-year-old girl who supplied most of the labor and expertise in assembling it had a great time, and plans to use her allowance money to purchase one for her own use.

Overall Rating

The Obstacle Avoiding Robot would be a good individual purchase for a child or teen who is interested in tinkering or robotics, but it is not a good fit for library programming purposes.

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Review: The Finch

Reviews, The Finch

Robot Basics:finch

  • What is it? The Finch Robot is designed for computer science education. It uses a variety of programming languages. See more information here: http://www.finchrobot.com/
  • What’s in the Box? The Finch Robot, cord, and a 1 page instruction sheet.
  • How Much? $99
  • Age Range? The Finch is good for kids who are comfortable with the idea of programming. I would probably say 3rd grade and up.
  • How Did We Acquire it? Through the ILEAD grant funds.

What I tried:

I have not used Finch in a program and I’m not sure if I ever will. My goal with the Finch was just to attempt to figure it out. After reading of Kim’s problems, I wanted to give it a try. I had a similar experience as her kids attempting to make it work.

The Finch requires software downloads and also at least a small understanding of some coding languages. I downloaded Scratch, since that was the program I was most familiar with.

The Finch requires software downloads and also at least a small understanding of some coding languages. I decided to try Scratch, since I had a basic understanding of the program. The Finch also requires you to download certain software depending on what programming language you pick. It definitely takes a little bit to get started. I found their instructions to be incredibly lacking. It felt very much like the designers had not user tested the instructions on us normal folks.

It took a lot of plugging and unplugging of the USB to get the Finch to talk to Scratch. Once it seemed to recognized the software I thought it would be smooth sailing. Incorrect. It was difficult to figure out how to get the Finch specific codes into Scratch. And then once I did, it took me a while to even find a code that worked. When I did look at the examples, (uhh, yeah I know, should have done that first), I thought they were rather weird. The codes worked, but they were not basic things that most people would want The Finch to do – like make it go.

After a big of struggling, I did finally make a program that worked with The Finch and it was exciting when it finally happened. I consider myself an intermediate coder and this was  difficult for me. I do not think The Finch is suitable for beginners at all.

Skills Needed:

To use the Finch you must have some coding skills, familiarity with a programming tool like Scratch, and be patient when it comes to Troubleshooting. You also need some time to figure the thing out.

Good Stuff

I do think you could use The Finch with a coding club, or kids who already have some experience. I don’t think it will be good with kids who are at the beginner stages.

Frustrations

The Finch is very frustrating. It is the most frustrating robot I have worked with yet. What I find even more troubling is how much it has been promoted. It seems to have gotten positive press and while I do think that it has potential – it is not there yet. They need to make sure The Finch is responsive when you first plug it in, and it would be much easier to work with if it was wireless. In the end, I think most kids would get frustrated with The Finch.

Ending Thoughts/Observations

If you have an interested coding club, give it a try. Otherwise, save yourself $99.

Overall Rating

Stinky

Review: The Finch

Programs, Reviews, The Finch

Robot Basics:

From the website,

“The Finch is a new robot for computer science education. Its design is the result of a four year study at Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE lab.

The Finch is designed to support an engaging introduction to the art of programming. It has support for over a dozen programming languages and environments, including several environments appropriate for students as young as eight years old.

The Finch was designed to allow students to write richly interactive programs. On-board features include:

  • Light, temperature, and obstacle sensors
  • Accelerometers
  • Motors
  • Buzzer
  • Full-color beak LED
  • Pen mount for drawing capability
  • Plugs into USB port – no batteries required”

What’s in the box:
The Finch robot and cord.

How much is it:
The Finch robot costs around $100.  You can find the product here: http://www.finchrobot.com/

Age Range:
This one varies.  It uses the same programming language as Scratch, so if you have kids who are familiar with MIT’s Scratch program, they could probably handle the Finch.  I would say 6th grade and up.

How did we acquire it?
ILEAD USA grant funds.

Ideas for Use
I had two Robot Test Kitchen sessions with 9 middle school kids.  I brought out our two Finch robots for the kids.  In one session, two kids worked together to figure out the Finch.  The other session had a single girl, about 12, playing with the robot.  In both cases, none of the kids had experience with Scratch or any of the other programming languages recommended to run Finch.

In both sessions, the kids had a difficult time making the Finch work.  I tried to work with them and had a frustrating time getting the Finch synced up with the laptop.  Each computer must download the software needed (it’s free software) to make the robot run.  Getting this to work was a struggle for all of us.  It took a lot of unplugging, plugging in, restarting, and patience to get the software to sync up with the Finch.  When the programming language and the robot finally worked together, it was interested for the kids to create simple commands to move the robot.

One of the other issues with the Finch is that it is not a wireless device.  The Finch robot has to be plugged into the computer at all times.  Because of this, it limits the amount of space and movements it can perform.  The kids found this to be frustrating because they wanted to include commands the Finch couldn’t fulfill due to space restrictions.

Time Involved
You do not have to do any prep for this except for downloading the free programming language you want to use to control the Finch. After that, you play for as long or as short as you want.

One Time or Recurring
I think making this a reoccurring program would be good.  It took so long to figure out that by the time the class was over, we were only able to play around for a little while.

Skills Needed
It would be good to have a knowledge of Scratch.  I did not want to prepare myself for this program because I wanted to be at the same level a new person would be at if they walked into the class.  It is not an intuitive program for those who are not code-savvy.

I would recommend that anyone who wants to lead this program play around a little with the Finch before unleashing it for the kids to use.  It requires a very specific skill set and if no one knows how to do it, it makes for a long class.

Good Stuff
Honestly, I do not have a lot of great things to say about the Finch Robot.   I saw two young middle school boys who read through the directions and tried several problem solving techniqures to make the robot work.  They were able to work well together and that was a positive outcome.

Bad Stuff
I did not care for this product.  Perhaps it was me.  I am not super excited by computer programming or these types of robotics.  It would be better to do this program with kids who are familiar with programming language and are willing to take the time to solve problems.

Overall Rating
Not for a beginner.  I’d say one an a half thumbs down.  The other half a thumb might just be for my lack of experience and patience.  It is worth trying if you know Scratch.