Robots help teach problem-solving skills

NANAIMO – Local elementary school students tackle Island-wide robot challenge.

Mountain View Elementary School students Zoé Desmarais

Mountain View Elementary School students Zoé Desmarais

A few smart kids from Nanaimo are tackling artificial intelligence from across the Island.

Members of Mountain View Elementary School’s Robotics Club are at the University of Victoria today pitting their problem-solving skills against competing Island robotics teams at the Vancouver Island First Lego League Robotics Competition.

First Lego League is a competition for elementary and middle school students that explores science and technology based on developing problem-solving skills related to real-world issues. The challenge for 2012 centres on how technology can help seniors suffering age-related issues such as mobility, dexterity and vision loss.

The Mountain View students, ages seven to 12, have been preparing for this year’s challenge for about two weeks through robotics sessions guided by Lincoln Silk with help from his wife, Michelle.

Silk has a degree in computing science and is the director of information systems for Nanaimo-based Ethos Career Management Group.

The children assemble their robot from kits produced by Lego Mindstorms, a Lego educational products division, and configure and program the robot for the challenge at hand.

“It comes with all the pieces and you put it together,” Silk said.

Each robot comes with a central processing unit with three ports that send signals to the robot’s drive and manipulator motors, plus four ports that receive signals from light, sound, pressure switch and ultrasonic range finding sensors. The combination enables the robot to navigate and perform tasks around a course set up on a standardized competition table. The children generate the robot’s set of instructions on a laptop computer using a building block style instruction assembly program with simple symbols representing commands the students string together.

“There are little menus and when they click on those, things pop up that represent little move blocks,” Silk said. “Gears represent a move, an hour glass is a ‘wait until’ command. They’re literally putting down a timeline telling the robot what to do and when.”

Once the children assemble the instruction code they test it to see how the robot performs on the competition table course, observe what goes wrong and when, iron out program bugs and fine tune the overall performance. The process requires patience, careful observation and develops problem solving skills.

“They’re learning what it’s like to program a really dumb machine because that’s what machines are – they have no intelligence,” Silk said.

All that programing and refinement will hopefully allow the children to start the robot and let it carry out its entire set of instructions on its course without human intervention. Throughout the last week Silk and the students crammed in as many sessions as possible to refine the robot’s performance for today’s competition.

“They push the button and the robot leaves and comes back on its own,” Silk said. “If they touch the robot somewhere [on the course] we lose points.”

The Mountain View team – only five to seven of the 15 students in the robot club are attending the competition – are up against teams within their  age group category. Schools and home-schooled students are fielding teams at the competition.

Just Posted

Construction work continues on the City of Nanaimo’s new Fire Station No. 1 on Fitzwilliam Street. (News Bulletin file)
Next phase of borrowing approved as Nanaimo fire hall construction ongoing

City of Nanaimo CAO says construction on Fitzwilliam Street hall on schedule and budget

Nanaimo Fire Rescue firefighters at the scene of a single-vehicle crash on Tenth Street near Southside Drive on Sunday, June 13. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Driver OK after crashing vehicle off the side of Nanaimo’s Tenth Street

Crews say wet roads a factor a crash Sunday, June 13

Emergency crews on scene of a two-car crash at the intersection of Cranberry Avenue and the Trans-Canada Highway on Sunday, June 13. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Crash blocks Cranberry intersection in Nanaimo, no one injured

Incident blocks both southbound lanes of Trans-Canada Highway

(PQB News file photo)
Fireworks report highlights enforcement challenges for Regional District of Nanaimo

Director: ‘I just think it’s wasting everybody’s time’

Nanaimo is the first city in Canada to subscribe to the Chonolog environment photo-monitoring system, which allow residents to contribute photos of habitat restoration projects that are converted to time lapse sequences showing environmental changes. (Chris Bush/ News Bulletin)
Nanaimo residents invited to be citizen scientists by sharing habitat restoration photos

Nanaimo first city in Canada to sign up for Chronolog environment photo monitoring service

Emergency crews on scene of a two-car crash at the intersection of Cranberry Avenue and the Trans-Canada Highway on Sunday, June 13. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Crash blocks Cranberry intersection in Nanaimo, no one injured

Incident blocks both southbound lanes of Trans-Canada Highway

Cruise ship passengers arrive at Juneau, Alaska in 2018. Cruise lines have begun booking passengers for trips from Seattle to Alaska as early as this July, bypassing B.C. ports that are not allowed to have visitors until March 2022 under a Canadian COVID-19 restrictions. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire)
B.C. doesn’t depend on U.S. law to attract cruise ships, Horgan says

Provinces to get update next week on Canada’s border closure

This undated photo provided by Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails shows a scout donating cookies to firefighters in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as part of the Hometown Heroes program. As the coronavirus pandemic wore into the spring selling season, many Girl Scout troops nixed their traditional cookie booths for safety reasons. That resulted in millions of boxes of unsold cookies. (Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails via AP)
Thinner Mints: Girl Scouts have millions of unsold cookies

Since majority of cookies are sold in-person, pandemic made the shortfall expected

In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, 2021 as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Terror charges laid against London attack suspect

Crown says Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province's fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps near Nanaimo

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

A section of proposed Harbourfront Walkway between White Eagle Terrace and Battersea Road. (City of Nanaimo image)
Nanaimo’s proposed walkway extension project estimated at $25-30 million

City asking for feedback on concepts to connect Departure Bay Beach and ferry terminal

City of Nanaimo council has approved amendments for an animal control bylaw requested by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. The bylaw includes language related to quail. (Wikipedia Commons photo)
Province asks for tweaks to Nanaimo’s animal responsibility bylaw

Ministry concerned bylaw wording could create municipal and provincial jurisdictional overlaps

Most Read