Tuesday, 14 March 2017

IT Kitchen: Tangible Programming With Buttons

Lego is a wonderful open ended making system that gives everyone from infant to pensioner the opportunity to "think with objects" to play and learn by doing things and making things.

Lego Mindstorms is for more technical making - its a "robotics Invention system kit" that can be used to make and program customised robots and machines.

The full Lego Mindstorms kit is a creative wonderland but for the beginner it can feel a bit like being thrown into the deep end - getting used to all the parts and how they fit together is quite a task and the introduction builds and learning how to interpret the instructions takes a lot of time and patience to work through for the novice.

To get started I want to make something quick and easy and then see it move around and be able to program it as quick as possible.

To get started fast with something tangible we simply need to put wheels on the "brain" as quick as possible to get movement. Damien Kee had been thinking the same and shared his EV3 Quick Build with the web so rather than "re-invent the wheel" I have used Damien's design for this robot. With just 34 pieces of Lego Mindstorms you can make a robot In under 10 minutes that is ready for programming.

Buttons the robot can be made from just 34 parts

Buttons can be built in less than 10 minutes

I wanted beginners to be able to get on to drive and program the robot as soon as they had made it without the further complication of having to use anything else. We are all used to programming objects in everyday life (reminders, alarms, media playlists, TV recorders, kitchen equipment, home controls etc) so I wanted the the robot to be programmable as a self contained object. I wanted the robot to be treated as a physical object that is physically programmed ...  a tangible object with tangible programming.
Buttons our tangible programming app

I developed a tangible programming app called "Buttons" that is pre-loaded into the robot "brain" for our workshops so that when it wakes up you can get started driving and programming the robot straight away using only the robot's buttons.

The Buttons app has three simple modes

Try My Moves (Drive) ... where you can push the buttons to see how the robot moves and note how the robot moves for when you come to program it - e.g. the direction it goes and how far it moves or rotates in one step.

Program Me ... where you can record a set of moves as a program; see the program playback or delete the program.

Run Program .. where you can see your program control the robot as it plays back the moves (with the move number) you recorded in the program.
The Buttons Move app has only four very simple moves: Forward, Backward, Left turn (90 degrees) and Right turn (90 degrees). The simplicity is useful for beginners to getting started and the simple moves can be put together in useful ways for computational thinking and versions of games such a "pin the tail on the donkey".

"Buttons" is a great beginners introduction to programming, Lego Mindstorms making and the basis for further projects that add Mindstorms capabilities with sounds, images, motors, sensors and customised parts such as our 3D printed Pen Holder that quickly turns "Buttons" into a LOGO type "Turtle" that can draw!


Find out more about Buttons at inspireNshare.com/buttons
Find out more about inspireNshare at inspireNshare.com
Find out more about our Mindstorms Thinglabs 

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