- Title: Pint-sized dancing robot to foster kids' STEM interest
- Date: 24th October 2016
- Summary: ROW OF MARTY ROBOTS DANCING (MUSIC - MUST ON-SCREEN COURTESY 'TIM BRICHENO' / NO ARCHIVE Digital: MUSIC - MUST ON-SCREEN COURTESY 'TIM BRICHENO' / NO ARCHIVE)
- Embargoed: 8th November 2016 10:20
- Keywords: Royal Academy of Engineering Marty robot STEM robotics Alexander Enoch
- Location: EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND, UK
- City: EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND, UK
- Country: United Kingdom
- Topics: Science
- Reuters ID: LVA00355D6KWR
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: An inexpensive toy robot designed to bring robotics and computer programming into every primary school class has been developed in Scotland.
Pint-side robot Marty can be programmed to walk, dance and play soccer, and was the brainchild of Dr Alexander Enoch, who has been honoured with a Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellowship for his efforts.
"I was finishing off my PhD in robotics and I looked at the smart toys that were available for learning about robotics, and coming from the background that I came from I wasn't totally happy with how far you could go in terms of the technology of each of them," he told Reuters. "At the same time my niece Juliette was starting to get to the age where she could play with a robot toy and I thought I could make one that will actually be a proper robot for the same price as a smart toy."
The robots are made from 3D printable parts and remote controllable by a smartphone or PC, using wifi.
Expensive, walking, robots are useful at grabbing the attention of young children, but models that are anything other than remote-controlled cars with legs are expensive - and aimed mainly at adult hobbyists.
"Marty is a two-legged walking robot," said Enoch. "What makes him special, in the way that his legs work, is that we use fewer motors (three in total) than a traditional walking robot would. It's got a forward and backwards and a side to side movement, and then this twisting movement - and that's quite different to how a normal robot would walk. It reduces the number of motors, which means it's cheaper to make, it's easier to program, it's easier to use, and the battery lasts longer. Normally if you reduce the number of motors you really compromise the behaviours it can do, but Marty can still walk and dance and turn and kick a ball and actually do interesting things. It also gives him a distinctive swagger, which is quite entertaining."
He added: "The way it works is that the legs stay parallel at all times, and we use springs inside the legs to carry some of the weight. Marty can balance on one leg without using any motor power, so that means it's a lot more energy efficient than a lot of toy robots. We've run workshops where we've had kids eight or nine years old designing movements for Marty and they can make their own movements without him falling over all the time because he's inherently stable."
Enoch wants to encourage children to become interested at an early age in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mechanical) subjects by giving them hands-on, fun-based, experience with robotics.
Devising an inexpensive robot means that multiple Martys could be bought for a single class, allowing children to potentially programme its movement in pairs, rather than risk becoming bored by sharing a robot with a whole class of pupils.
"What we find really engaging is when if you're programming something and it makes something move around in the real world that's an instant grab. It's a nice way to get some very nice feedback, to feel engaged with what you're doing, while actually tackling some quite complex problems," said Enoch.
Raspberry Pi and Arduino compatible, Marty can be programmed using Scratch, a graphical program aimed at 9-11 year olds. Older children and adults can use more complicated programs, such as Python, and add extra motors and sensors if desired.
Enoch's eight-year-old niece Juliette Wambergue loves programming Marty. "It's fun. School's also fun, but it's not every day you get a chance to do robotics," she told Reuters.
Sixteen-year-old student Yannik Nelson, who is designing a spinning hat for Marty using Python, said it's not just for younger children.
"I think it's great being able to learn robotics basically at any stage using one tool. It's really useful," he said.
An initial batch of 500 Martys have been made for sale directly via the website of Enoch's start-up, Robotical, after a successful crowdfunding campaign surpassed the 50,000 Pounds ($61,000 USD) target. A single Marty kit costs 99 Pounds.
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