MoonBots Reloaded

We want to share some exciting news with all of you MoonBots enthusiasts. Landroids, the Grand PRIZE Winner of the 2010 MoonBots Challenge has been up to some pretty amazing and inspiring things this summer. The Google Lunar X PRIZE wants to commend this team for its dedication to STEM Education! You guys are great! We can not thank you enough for all that you have done for these students.

Article posted by Landroids:
Summer 2011 has so far been an extremely busy time for the Landroids. Earlier this year, our team had decided to “take the summer off” to recharge, and not compete in the Moonbots 2.0 challenge. Well, the “time off” idea turned out to be a wishful thinking for a short while. Instead, this summer, the entire team is participating in two Biomedical Engineering and Computer Science internships at NJIT, attended 2 courses of synthetic biology in NYC. On top of that, we are also partnering with Real World Connections (RWC) and the Capstone Program at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) to introduce robotics to the inner city middle school and high school students.

Our ambitious summer plan started in June when approached by RWC to recruit our team as their summer robotics track instructors. The six Landroids 9th grade students became the youngest instructors ever in the RWC history, whereas typically, these positions are filled by the NJIT Capstone Program graduate students.

With Google Lunar X PRIZE’s blessings, we designed a 5-weeks fun but intense robotics curriculum known as the “Moonbots Reloaded”, modeled after the on-going, real world Moonbots 2.0 competition, and conducted this robotics course concurrently with the Moonbots Phase 2 challenge during the summer. Our goal is to reach out to a new sector of students, most of whom are not currently interested in STEM or experienced in robotics. How to make them from zero to hero in 5 weeks would be a new challenge for our team. In early July, in front of more than 150 middle schools to graduate students, college deans and industry professionals, Landroids rolled out the “Moonbots Reloaded” Prezi presentation as one of the 10 project tracks at Real World Connections. We gave an overview of the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) Moonbots challenge, complete with videos, the entire Moonbots field set up from the previous year, and laid out an intense competition requirement. Immediately, a dozen incoming 5th to 10th grade students took on the challenge to make up two teams, known as the Crater Raiders and Hurricane Bots. Each team would have 5 weeks, 2 days a week, to prepare a robot proposal, a LEGO Digital Designer (LDD) rendering, blog weekly on their newly created websites, document their progress with pictures and videos, build and program a Mindstorm robot to attempt some of the Moonbots missions, and present their journey at the end of this summer course.

To start off, a more permanent location to set up the Moonbots field and conduct classes during the summer is needed. Also, we found out that none of these students owns a laptop to do any programming or computer work, most of them had only played with the LEGO bricks previously, never even seen a Mindstorm robot. Luckily, the NJIT Honors College generously offered us the posh Honors Student lounge and the computer lab as our summer home. RWC took charge of purchasing multiple sets of LEGO Mindstorms kits and HiTechnic sensors for this course. With the VIP room keys in hand and boxes of new toys delivered, the Landroids 2011 “Kids Teaching Kids” Moonbots robotics track kicked into high gears!

Once all the resources, mentorships and facilities are in place, the rookies robotics students soon became addicts to Moonbots. Starting from opening up all the Mindstorm kits in Week 1, settling at their own computers in the PC lab, along with a full team of Landroids rotating through with each student throughout the day, progress enthused exponentially. Everyone was busy and focused on either building or programming robots, browsing through the Moonbots and GLXP websites, creating their own websites, writing blogs, and learning LDD, taking pictures, or prepare for weekly presentations and homework deliverable. At the end of Week 4, both teams had a robot that moved on the field! By then, the students wanted shorter lunch breaks, extended hours and extra days to work on the robot. The transformation and passion were truly amazing!

Soon, many realized how math and science can be applied to engineering the robot. They started to compare notes on which math classes they had taken would help in navigating the robot movements, teaching the younger ones the concept of degrees and rotation, and how physics would affect the effectiveness of the robot drive train and ways to pick up the loops. Even though this robotics track was the most intense and demanding project in the entire RWC summer program, many felt that maybe Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) are not as boring as they thought! They too can do this!

On August 10, 2011 at NJIT, at the end of this summer program, both Moonbots Reloaded teams will be showcasing their robots and present their journey to all of the visitors and spectators as part of the RWC Project Showcase Day . Perhaps, some of these students will go back to their schools and start new robotics teams, perhaps they will remember and talk about how hard they had worked together to meet the challenge, and maybe some will even pursue more STEM related activities in the future. We applaud everyone’s effort and progress. Good luck to you all next week! Many thanks to the tremendous support we have from RWC, the Capstone students, NJIT and GLXP!

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