By AARON RILEY
Rowan University offers an Introduction to Programming Using Robots course taught by Dr. Jennifer Kay. She also teaches various other classes concerning programming.
Essentially, the class begins with students receiving a functional robot known as the Scribbler. The Scribbler can be controlled with the Python programming language via a Bluetooth connection between the computer, where the user is inputting the commands with a keyboard, and the robot.
According to student Stephen Smith, some of the projects they’ve done include using special conditions to make the robots exhibit certain behaviors over time such as following a light and crossing a specific number of black lines drawn on the floor.
The goal of the class is to gain a better understanding of how robots can be programmed in order to achieve certain physical goals; through this process, the student learns how to program in the Python language. Students are not responsible for learning anything more technical about the robot than its basic functions and what commands it responds to using Python, and they are not required to learn the schematic of the Scribbler. The class is not about building, maintaining, or designing robots, though a brief history of robotics is explained in the introduction of the course. The robots’ response to the code students run gives the students the ability to see how their programs work in a very tangible manner as opposed to simply seeing data output on a computer screen.
Once a basic understanding of the robot and the Python syntax is gained, students are encouraged to experiment with the various functions of the robot. However, there are some weeks when the robot is not used in the classroom. During these weeks, the lessons focus only on specific Python capabilities and functions. The students take the robots home for the entire semester, and so they are free to work with the robots whenever they want until the end of the semester.
Discussing the highlights of the course, Smith said, “I created a dance video with six robots running identical code (which can be found HERE). It’s my code, choreography and music selection…simplistic yet cool. The robots aren’t in complete unison because the code was executed by six different people on six different computers attempting to press Enter at the same time. I also designed a tic-tac-toe game that can be played by two robots. That project hasn’t been completed as of this time, and it’s finals week, so it’s not going to be finished as an assignment.”