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Tag Archives: robotics

Self-driving carts – The downside of robotics

Robots are great until they carry out tasks that take humans out of the equation. Or when they attempt to use ‘data’ as a substitute for insight.

For this reason I am not exactly excited about self-driving cars – and I pass some of these each week in the Gilbert area. (Bummer! Uber’s autonomous vehicle met with a 3-vehicle crash last week) Besides the safety aspect, there’s the real long-term effect of erosion of jobs. Those jobs that involve routine manual tasks. Think of warehouse work, or on-demand ‘runners’ and movers that make a factory work.

As fascinating as this demo below seems, it’s the dark side of what robots could do to the workplace.

If there’s any upside of this, it’s that companies that defining this future are hiring people with emerging engineering and science (STEM) backgrounds. The company who developed this cart says it is hiring a ‘Computer Vision Scientist‘ – someone with math skills, and experience in LIDAR, radar, sonar, GPS etc.

I love it! The smart cart can ‘see’ and find its way through a messy warehouse. But it needs a scientist with ‘computer vision‘ in his/her title to bring such technologies to fruition. At least it’s a raison d’être for STEM education. People who can carry out cognitive, problem-solving tasks that bots cannot. Yet.

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Posted by on September 11, 2017 in Disruptive, Education, Technology

 

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Robotics teams immersed in complex (timely) water challenge

So as #Flooding and #StormSurge is on everyone’s mind with havoc from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, it is unhappily timely that robotics in schools and clubs across the country are wrapping their minds around an H2O challenge. Specifically, ‘Hydro Dynamics.’

It’s this year’s theme for the FIRST Lego League that will culminate in tournaments between November and December. (Interestingly, the theme of the FIRST Global ‘Olympics‘ in July was H2O Flow ) Alongside the work on building and programming a bot to run missions, students must work on a research project. How water is sourced, conserved, distributed etc. They must also come up with a solution that ‘adds value to society’.

Right now there are a myriad of issues that experts and government officials are wrestling with. Could students hypothetically solve some of these in the future? Dean Kamen’s FIRST outfit has been doing an amazing job of using robotics to build a new cadre of engineers, designers, and problem-solvers.

As I watch my school team assemble the missions in my lab, it’s evident that each mission (built of Lego pieces) is more complex this year: There’s a ‘Pump addition’ mission, a Water Treatment model involving ‘Big water’, and others involving Pipe Replacement, and Sludge Removal.

Here is what the field mat looks like.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2017 in Education, Events, Robotics, Technology

 

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Robotics Olympics highlights. Team Sri Lanka returns

Washington DC’s humidity hovered around 90 percent when the competition began on 16 July. Team Sri Lanka’s four students were sweating bullets for different reasons. In a crowded basement, parked between Senegal and Sudan their 20-wheel steel robot needed some repair work.

The bot that they built in secret in a classroom in Colombo (they called it ‘Area 52’) arrived with a warped axle and damaged omni-wheels. Two hours before departure the airline forced them to repack the 23-kilo microwave-sized contraption into two boxes. The next day the motor failed –not an uncommon problem among teams here.

But they did take on the world! In this competition, designed by FIRST Global like the Olympics, each team worked in ‘alliances’ – groups of three country teams. It was fascinating to watch each team, battling cultural and language barriers (and jet lag and sleep) work through the constraints and perform. My family and I were so proud to be there supporting them.

They did quite well in strategy and design of the bot. In terms of rankings they were placed 138th out of 163 teams – beating the US, France, and Russia. When you consider they had just 9 weeks to prepare for this (many teams had at least 12 weeks), it was quite a feat.

Kudos to coach Dilum Rathnasinghe who took on such an unthinkable task. The team comprised: Ali Anver, Ishini Gammanpila, Vinidu Jayasekera and Akash Gnanam

Here are some images from the 163-team, 157-nation Robotics Olympics.  Read previous post here.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2017 in Ed-Tech, Education, Robotics

 

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Opening Ceremony of Robotics event in DC

Modeled on the Olympics, FIRST Global’s inaugural international robotics event began on July 16th.

This was the opening ceremony.

 
 

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If only schools can be like this!

I just interviewed Kris Canekeratne, CEO of Virtusa, a 20,000-strong global business consulting and IT outsourcing company headquartered in Massachusetts. Among the many strands we talked about, I was fascinated by his take on learning, and how schools ought to be the ‘ignition’ for curiosity.

“Students have an innate proclivity to curiosity,” he says – no different how engineers are inherently curious, with problem-solving and design thinking as part of their skill set. If only we could design schools to be the spark plugs of knowledge! It’s time we began exposing students to Big Data, Nanotech, AI, user experience, and gamification, he says, instead of teaching them how to memorize material just to pass exams.

To this end, here’s an example of design-thinking class at a Charter School in Berkeley, California.

 
 

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Summer camp at Li’l Sprouts Montessori

 

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Team Sri Lanka head to International Robotics event in DC

I like to break to the news about a story that has been in the works since April. Sri Lanka was invited to participate in the first ever International Robotics event, billed as the Olympics of Robotics. It is organized by First Global, an extension of FIRST Robotics, by Dean Kamen, a serial entrepreneur The event will be from July 16 to July 18th.

The team (4 students) received the robot kit from FIRST Global in April. Given the short time frame, they have been moving mountains to build, program and test the robot. I have been in touch with the coach and the school while they have been prepping for this. More details will follow.

Meanwhile, here’s a look at the team testing some of the working parts of the robot.

 

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