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Author Topic: The "What to Build?" Guide  (Read 901 times)

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Offline arixroboticsTopic starter

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The "What to Build?" Guide
« on: December 20, 2009, 08:03:56 AM »
Hello all,

I am trying to write a very brief guide for a project I am working on. What I am trying to achieve through this guide is to give the reader some ideas of what to build using the knowledge that they have just acquired. I would really love some inputs / comments from you guys.

First off, here's some background of the project as a whole; we teach high school students basic microcontroller skills with the aim of engendering innovative minds. We want the students to start making their own projects right after they've completed a 5-day training. The training was done in a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) style, where we focus on getting the projects to work and intuitively learn the theory behind it as we go along.

The training was done 2 weeks ago. The next step is to get them to build stuff. We want them to come up with useful inventions that make impact, not just something that is for table-top display. But of course, given the very little training given, we did not expect them to build something so complicated. We are looking at something like an automatic plant watering system, lights that turn on automatically when someone enters a room, temperature monitoring system, etc. We want simple ideas that could be done with minimum technical knowledge, but serves a purpose. The objective is just to get them to start innovating. 

So now, I want to give them some ideas of what can they build using the microcontroller and electronics knowledge that they've acquired. I've thought of providing a list of sample projects, but then I thought its better to give a sort of generic guide which they could relate to and get some ideas from it.

Basically, I've classified all possible projects into 5 categories based in their purpose. Some projects will fit into just one category, while others will be cross-categories.
  • Automation / Control
  • Education
  • Information
  • Extending Capability
  • Entertainment

Automation / Control:
Build something that automates or controls a process. Eg;
- Turn on the lights when someone enters a room, and turns it off when he leaves.
- Water the plants when the soil gets dry.
- Control the water pressure of a valve to avoid bursting. (http://www.parallax.com/tabid/323/Default.aspx)
- Flushes the toilet automatically after the user finish his ‘business’ (http://www.parallax.com/tabid/579/Default.aspx)

Education:
Use your device for teaching someone something. Eg:
- Teaching aids: make something that demonstrates a concept learnt in class. Look in your textbooks for ideas!
- Instead of automate, educate! Instead of automatically flushing the toilet, the user must flush himself or the door latch will remain locked. That will teach ‘em! (This is an actual problem in school toilets over here)

Information:
Build something that send and/or receive information to/from the user. Eg:
- Temperature monitor with threshold value alarm.
- Weather station; provides the temperature, humidity, wind speed etc.
- Count the number of people that goes through a door.

Extending Capabilities:
Extending and improving the capability of our body or another device. Eg:
- IR remote control extender.
- Burglar alarm; tells the user when a burglar is in the house.

Entertainment:
Something for fun or looks cool. Eg:
- A game of some sort
- Lights that dance to some music.


Can you think of any projects that would not fit into any of the categories? In fact, ideally, every invention should be able to fit into one of these categories.

If you have any ideas or comments including but not limited to what else should I include, what could be called better, or anything else, please let me know. Or if you have any experience to share, go ahead!

Offline Soeren

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Re: The "What to Build?" Guide
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2009, 09:01:04 AM »
Hi,

- Instead of automate, educate! Instead of automatically flushing the toilet, the user must flush himself or the door latch will remain locked. That will teach ‘em! (This is an actual problem in school toilets over here)
This one I see a couple of serious problems with (apart from your students being insanitary little pigs ;D).
If the flush or the sensor detecting it don't work, a student could be trapped. In case of fire, this might be fatal, in both instances, expect lawyers smiling.

To get people inventing, I've learned that the best motivation comes from laziness (getting something done so you don't have to), and a need to get something happening, that you cannot just go buy somewhere (it might be interfacing two commercial products or creating something that just haven't been done commercially yet).

Robot construction is good, of course, since you can imagine the fun you'd have once it's build and along the way, you often need to "invent" special solutions - you need a lot of smaller "inventions" under your coat to be prepared for the real McCoy and a wide insight in at least what can be done with the plethora of engineering (and other involved) disciplines.
Regards,
Søren

A rather fast and fairly heavy robot with quite large wheels needs what? A lot of power?
Please remember...
Engineering is based on numbers - not adjectives

Offline arixroboticsTopic starter

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Re: The "What to Build?" Guide
« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2009, 10:42:17 AM »
Hi Soeren,

This one I see a couple of serious problems with (apart from your students being insanitary little pigs ;D).
If the flush or the sensor detecting it don't work, a student could be trapped. In case of fire, this might be fatal, in both instances, expect lawyers smiling.

Honestly, I overlooked this fact before. But then, hey, that makes the project even better! That means the students would not only have to think about the mechanism to get their device functioning, they would also have to think about other issues like safety, reliability etc. That will give them a taste of the process that a real product would have to go through before going into production. But ya, I might sound too optimistic here... I get your point though.

The students are divided into groups, and each group will be mentored by 2 university students, plus a couple of lecturers to oversee everything. So anything that the students will build will be monitored by somebody who are matured and smart enough to consider safety issues (I hope!). We'll keep in mind though :) 

To get people inventing, I've learned that the best motivation comes from laziness (getting something done so you don't have to), and a need to get something happening, that you cannot just go buy somewhere (it might be interfacing two commercial products or creating something that just haven't been done commercially yet).

Couldn't agree more.

Robot construction is good, of course, since you can imagine the fun you'd have once it's build and along the way, you often need to "invent" special solutions - you need a lot of smaller "inventions" under your coat to be prepared for the real McCoy and a wide insight in at least what can be done with the plethora of engineering (and other involved) disciplines.

Building robots are good, and that's why I'm doing it too. But the key here is we need inventions that are simple, but serves a purpose. I don't want to sound bad in a robotics forum, but I personally think hobby robots are only for our own entertainment (and learning, of course). The funder of this project specifically asks for something that can be used to do stuff. Anything that falls under the Entertainment category will be ruled out. Because this is part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program, they want their money (quite a lot I tell you) spent well, and not just to build some 'toys'.

Unless of course, we're building a life-sized rescue robot or an underwater ROV for university research. But that's way out of budget  :(

 


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