Using open-source software and hardware, the HAL-e robot kit is meant to teach kids about robotics in a substantial and enjoyable manner. The assembly was designed to be done entirely by elementary schoolers, with them putting together everything from the wiring to the motors and the chassis. After construction, they can use the keypad to make the robot obey up to 50 movement commands in succession.
So often robotics is made to seem out of reach to young children, especially girls. My sister and I have been building things for our entire lives, so we're lucky enough to see that's not true. However, most of the robot kits we constructed in our youth were either overly complex or too short. HAL-e was designed to be at the level of elementary schoolers, but have a meaty enough construction and programmable ability that kids could see the beauty in robotics.
The kids who had tested HAL-e’s earlier iteration were often frustrated by the chassis having so many extra holes. Indeed, most robot chassis we looked were designed for many different robot designs at once. When we designed our own chassis, we made sure to have minimum number of holes and clear labels in order to lessen the confusion. A main goal of this project is to minimize frustration by keeping the robot at an elementary school, not electrical engineer level.
I'mgaining a greater appreciation for my teachers and all educators in general as we try to write this lesson guide. Trying to explain how an Arduino works in words in a way that elementary schoolers would understand is way harder than it seems. Even the design of the guide itself is difficult. Meg is doing a great job designing the icons for each of the components.
But its slow-going, given the time it takes for her to choose what details to include in the drawings and what not to. I’m learning that complexity is difficult to capture in words and in pictures alike, but simplifying that complexity down without losing the educational value is way harder.
HAL-e doesn’t always go in perfectly straight lines. She’s still usable, but we’d like to improve her further. We’ve started another prototype, using paper caps on the wheel and new sensors. Aesthetically, it’s definitely going to be much less nice looking than the original design, thanks to the wires sticking out.
Additionally, the construction might be out of reach for elementary schoolers given the extra wires. I’ll keep on working on it, but I doubt that having HAL-e move in a perfectly straight line will be worth the trade-offs.
Part of building the kits before we give them to the kids is soldering the two electronic components. Ideally we wouldn’t have to do this ourselves, but we can’t find a motor driver combined with an Arduino online, and its too expensive to pay for them to be made. Luckily, I've been soldering since I was 7. Plus, unlike Kat, I don't have the propensity to burn myself using the wire. I keep telling her to forget her dinner manners and keeping her elbows down on the table while she's soldering. It would help keep her hands from shaking, but she doesn't always do it.
Looking ahead, we'll need to get a process worked out to solder HAL-e quickly and effectively, without ruining any electronics in the process.