Tokyo Institute of Technology: Middle schoolers create robots at workshops hosted by Society for the Study of Robotics

Members of the Aqua Lab from the Society for the Study of Robotics — an official Tokyo Tech student club — hosted three robotics workshops for students of the science club at Nakahara Junior High School in Hiratsuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture in December 2021. Sixteen middle school students joined these workshops, supported by the science education support arm of the Tokyo Tech Fund, to create their own amphibious robots.

The “Omniboat” was developed by members of the Aqua Lab as a kit that allows users to create a boat-shaped water robot. It includes two cycloidal propellers that are actually used in small boats that need to make minor turns, providing the robot with the ability to take on various propulsive directions and positions. Many of the parts of the Omniboat were created using a 3D printer to allow mass production as a kit. In addition to the propellers, components include parts for the frame, the original circuit board, microcontroller, sensors, and other electronic parts. Once the frame and circuits have been assembled, users can write their own program or use a provided program to operate the water robot.

In response to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, the Omniboat was originally developed as an amphibious robot that could be created at home by new Tokyo Tech students joining the Aqua Lab at the Society for the Study of Robotics. After hearing about the potential educational effects of the Omniboat, the science club at Nakahara Junior High School proposed that members of Aqua Lab hold a workshop where the youngsters can learn more about the robot. Before sharing the kits with the students, Aqua Lab revised the assembly instructions, circuits, and programs to make them more suitable for younger participants.

On days 1 and 2 of the online workshops, Tokyo Tech students offered simple lectures on the Omniboat kits. The middle school students then split into groups to assemble the robot under the guidance of Aqua Lab members. While the online environment presented some challenges, all groups were able to complete the assembly with the cooperation of the local teachers and by referring to the instructions and images prepared in advance. It took the youngsters approximately three hours to complete the project, but they remained focused and throughout seemed to enjoy the assembly until the end.

On the final day, teams applied the prepared code to their completed robots and tested them in a pool. The hull for the robot was not provided in a kit and had to be created by the middle school students themselves. Some elaborate designs emerged, and while not all groups were completely successful in their experiments, the students seemed to feel a sense of accomplishment once they had balanced their creations and were able to move them in the water.

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