LEGO’s latest entry in the war for the hearts and minds of the world’s children hit the stores last week, and it is, as I have been telling you, critical to the future of process and factory automation.
John Groff, Marketing Director for NI, gave a set of Mindstorms NXT to his kids, who built robots, programmed them and demonstrated them to a press conference this morning. One of the most interesting was the demo done by Groff’s daughter, Lindsay, who is about 12, I think. She had her robot dancing and using its display screen to smile. “I liked how easy it was to drag everything over and drop it.” Matthew, who will be 7 tomorrow also got his birthday present early. He also had a neat robot to show us.
NI and LEGO enjoy a long-standing relationship that began in 1998 when Dr Chris Rogers and then director of education at Lego, Robert Rasmussen, now at Tufts with Rogers, came to NI with the development of ROBOLAB, the programming software created for the original LEGO MINDSTORMS for Schools product. ROBOLAB software, which is also based on NI LabVIEW, has helped make LEGO MINDSTORMS for Schools a leading robotics learning and invention tool for educators worldwide.
Mindstorms education is now a partnership between LEGO Education, National Instruments, Carnegie Mellon, Tufts Center for Engineering Educational Outreach and Vernier Software and Technology.
“Oh, that was a great toy we saw downstairs. How do we take the next step and use it for robotic education in the schools?” says Jens Maibom the vice president of Lego Education. “Mindstorms education is being launched now, Mindstorms science introduces datalogging at an early age, but our plan is to introduce Labview in the curriculum to be a critical tool to teach science.”
“We are expecting to have many more third party sensors,” Maibom says.
The Mindstorms Education Curriculum is developed by consortium partners, engages student creativity and curiosity, delivers success for teachers, explores science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and it has to address core content standards. It is a challenge based curriculum.
Robotics in Education is happening in many countries, and Robolab, the previous software is already in 13 languages, Maibom said.
The panel discussion consisted of Ray Almgren, of NI, as moderator, Chris Rogers of Tufts, Robin Shoop from Carnegie Mellon, Dave Vernier of Vernier Instruments, and Jens Maibom.
“This is a very good tool for underpriviledged children, and poorer school districts,” says Rogers, “but the problem is that it is expensive.”
“We need to make sure that the schools have the priorities right and spend the money on the right things,” Almgren noted.
“Twenty years ago, we heard the same things about software in the schools,” asked a journalist in the audience. “What we got is video games. What is going to be the difference this time?”
Robin Shoop from Carnegie Mellon says, “We found looking at data, that kids like robots a lot more than moving pixels. The learning becomes contextual.”
Chris Rogers: “It all comes down to what the teachers can feel comfortable teaching.”
Shoop: “I look at what we have here is a three legged stool. We have neat stuff, we have curriculum, and we need to have professional development for teachers. If you don’t have that third leg you don’t have success. This consortium has made a big commitment to bringing that professional development to teachers across the globe.”
I asked an inconvenient question. Where, I asked, were the ABBs and the Fanucs and the Hitachis in this attempt to move robotics into the schools? Robin Shoop tried to tell me that they were using them as domain experts and that wasn’t want my question was.
My question remains: why aren’t the automation companies in the forefront AND PAYING for this educational development? The purpose of this exercise is to provide the ABBs and the Fanucs and the Hitachis and the Rockwells, etc. both a stream of educated employees and educated customers…where are they in this effort??
Chris Rogers said three times in this press conference that it was expensive to get this tool and the curriculum into the schools. Shoop noted that professional development was key to the success of this effort. So, how about it, you vendors? Why not take on a school in every country you operate in, and take Mindstorms to them? Rogers pleaded for vendors to put their employees into the classrooms to help teach STEM education. Start young, start at second grade, and you will have more engineers, scientists, mathematicians and engineers in the colleges.
Also at the press conference, NI announced that they will have a Labview tool box for NXT.
Microsoft has announced a programming interface for NXT as well.