Robots are starting to assist everywhere, including schools. What's great about this robot, is it's not expensive, and can easily be programmed with a computer. This is like the junior version of the Lego Mindstorms
"The 11 cm x 11 cm robot is equipped with proximity sensors (it can detect close objects), ground-directed sensors (it can detect the edge of a table around which it’s circulating, or a line to follow), accelerometers (It can measure acceleration, detect impacts and indicate gravity), a microphone and a temperature sensor (an electronic thermometer). It also has a memory card for recording sound. After they’ve turned their Thymio II on using buttons on the surface, users get the robot to adopt one of the basic modes, such as friend (follows an object in front of it), explorer (avoids obstacles), coward (detects impacts and empty space) or investigator (follows a line on the ground).
By hooking it up to a computer via a USB cable, users can invent and program other behaviours. “You could imagine the robot becoming blue when you put it in the fridge, for example,” suggests Mondada. The programming is done using a software called Aseba, which was developed by EPFL. “Aseba is a simple language, but it contains the principle concepts of programming,” Mondada continues. The software code is “open source,” available for modification or downloading over the Internet, and rights free.
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From Lego to programming, by way of physics
Thymio II is not just a teaching tool for robotics professors. Thanks to its many sensors, it can also be used to teach physics, when subjects such as gravity, the properties of light and temperature are on the agenda. And thanks to its engaging character, the robot can also be used by children who are too young to understand programming. “It’s possible to stack Lego bricks on top of the Thymio II. Kids can decorate it and play with it to start with, then discover new kinds of behaviour over the Internet, and start to program it when they’ve gotten a bit older.”