“Educate to Innovate”

About 2 weeks ago, the President gave a speech about a new program called “Educate to Innovate.” The program aims to improve education in the categories of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or STEM. At the end of his speech, students from Oakton High School demonstrate their “Cougar Cannon,” a robot designed to scoop up and throw “moon rocks.” A video of the speech, and the demonstration, is below.

“As President, I believe that robotics can inspire young people to pursue science and engineering. And I also want to keep an eye on those robots in case they try anything.”

As a lover of technology, I find it wonderful that the president is moving in this direction. I wrote, not too long ago, about my disappointment with our current educational system. When I was in school, there were always extra subjects we could engage in to expand our knowledge. In fact, the high school I attended was set up similar to that of a college, requiring that a number of extra credits, beyond the core classes, be taken. Often these were foreign languages or some form of a shop class. Fortunately, for me, the school also offered classes in programming and electronics.

I was invited back to the school by my former electronics teacher a few years after I graduated. The electronics program had expanded somewhat and they were involved in a program called FIRST Robotics, developed by Dean Kamen. Unfortunately, I had moved out of the area, so my involvement was extremely limited, but I did enjoy working with the students. The FIRST program is an excellent way to engage competitiveness along with education. Adults get to assist the students with the building and programming of the robot, guiding them along the process. Some of the design work was simply outstanding, and solutions to problems were truly intuitive.

One of the first “Educate to Innovate” projects is called “National Lab Day.” National Lab Day is a program designed to bring students, educators, and volunteers together to learn and have fun. Local communities, called “hubs,” are encouraged to meet regularly throughout the year. Each year, communities will gather to show off what they have learned and created. Labs range from computer science to biology, geology to physics, and more. In short, this sounds like an exciting project, one that I have signed up for as a volunteer.

I’m excited to see education become a priority once again. Seeing what my children learn in school is very disappointing at times. Sure, they’re younger and I know that basic skills are necessary, but it seems they are learning at a much slower pace than when I was in school. I don’t want to see them struggle later in life because they didn’t get the education they need and deserve. I encourage you to help out where you can, volunteer for National Lab Day, or find another educational program you can participate in. Never stop learning!


HERO Returns!

Greetings and welcome to a new year.  Same as the old year, but incremented by one.  Exciting, eh?

I stumbled across an article the other day about an old friend of mine.  I worked on him all through high-school, learning quite a bit about robotics along the way.  His name?  HERO 2000.

HERO had all sorts of cool gadgets including a full robotic arm, speech synthesis, a bunch of sensors to detect light, sound, heat, and more.  You could even write programs, in BASIC, that automated the robot to do different tasks.  I spent quite a bit of time programming him for a variety of tasks, getting him set up for shows, and just playing around with all of the different sensors and other features.  Like I said, I learned a lot.

So, back to the article I mentioned.  Apparently, HeathKit, the original makers of the HERO robot, are at it again.  The HERO robot is coming back, this year!  The new HE-Robot is supposedly available now, according to an article on DeviceGuru, with educational kits coming in January and February.

According to the specifications, the new HERO runs Windows XP Pro on an Intel Core 2 Duo processor.  I’m not impressed with Windows, but I’m sure that can be replaced easily enough.  In fact, with the large OSS crowd out there, I’ll be there’s a full Linux OS install for HERO before the end of the year.

At any rate, the robot comes with a webcam, cd-rom/cd-rw (for on-the-go burning, of course), a bunch of sensors, speakers, and more.  The only thing I see missing is the arm.  And, unfortunately, based on the pictures available, it doesn’t look like the arm will ever be available.  Just not enough room for it.

So, how about price.  Well, it appears that White Box Robots is the manufacturer of this particular machine.  According to their website, the Series 9 PC-Bot, which the HE-RObot is based on, runs a cool $7,995.  Ugh.  At that price, I can research and build my own.  There are less expensive models, including a few that run Linux (which means that drivers already exist), so let’s hope HeathKit sells them for a lower price.  I would love to buy one of these as a kit and build it with my sons, but $5,000 is just way out of my price range…  Anyone want to donate one to me?  :)  Pretty please?