David Peins and Brian Patton founded Robodyssey systems back in 2001 to develop and provide instructions to kids interested in electronics and building their own robots.
Designed to include a strong focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the pair put together a program that would build children’s specific skills, not just in robot construction, but also in trouble-shooting and the design of electronic circuits, while integrating computer software with hardware.
The robot curriculum also encompasses the more universal skills of using the scientific method, developing computer code to accomplish tasks and collecting and analyzing data.
“Our goal is really to teach, ” said Peins, an ex-machinist, noting that while it wasn’t always easy to teach nine- and 10-year olds how to program, it was similar to teaching any other kind of language.
“Once they understand that it’s a language kind of like English, and they understand the syntax to put it into the right form, and they see what the robot does, they’re excited enough to move forward,” he said.
Admittedly, said Peins, the programming used by Robodyssey was “inelegant,” in an attempt to make it as simple as possible, with kids using both Microbasic and Visualbasic with their home-made kits. The simplicity of it, however, has given the system its high success rate, with various schools across the U.S. implementing it. At the recent Science and Engineering festival in Washington, D.C., the Robodyssey booth was consistently swamped, and while a lot of the other robots on display at that show were probably more complex, kids seemed drawn to the friendly looking robot faces cluttering Peins’ table.
But can all students be taught to program robots? “It’s not so much about aptitude, it’s about interest,” said Peins, noting that the goal was to make it easy for students to get started and take it to higher levels from there.