Classroom Robotics at Bett 2017

Exploring Educational Robotics at the 2017 Bett show

From the introduction of Turtle robots over half a century ago, classroom robotics have become an increasingly important part of Computing education, and are now a major part of teaching the subject.

Last week, we headed down to the 2017 Bett show, a large-scale conference dedicated to exhibiting the latest and greatest edtech products and services. Unsurprisingly, many of the companies there specialised in supplying classroom robotics - in this piece. we’re taking a look at some of the robot creations being advertised and exhibited at Bett.

Raspberry Pi Robotics

Designed as a low-cost, high-flexibility computer, the Raspberry Pi is one of the most popular edtech devices around. In most schools, you’ll see Pis being used to explore the digital aspects of Computing, with the device’s use of Python making it an ideal piece of tech for teachers. Along with the Pi unit itself, there’s a large range of add-ons which use the Pi as a base for any number of robotics projects:

Astro Pi - One of the most iconic projects using Raspberry Pi, Astro Pi sees students from around the world designing programs to be sent to a Pi unit aboard the International Space Station. Having initially run in the UK with astronaut Tim Peake, the Astro Pi mission will soon be expanding across the world, with new contests for upcoming space missions.

Pi Hats - Designed to allow Raspberry Pi units to interact with the world in additional ways, Hats are a particularly useful part of Pi robotics. With hats now existing to add practically every imaginable feature, the Pi is becoming an increasingly universal device.

Wheeled Buggies - Using the Pi as the brain for a robotic kit allows learners to program the devices in the exact way that they want to, whether that’s driving in a certain way, using an add-on to follow a line, or even learning how to navigate a course.

Bett robotics for primary education

While many may associate robotics and Digital Making with secondary pupils, one of our big takeaways from this year’s Bett show was the fact that Computing is becoming increasingly important for primary-level students. As such, there’s a whole lot of primary-aimed robotics out there:

Scratch - One of the most commonly-used languages among primary Computing learners, scratch is a simple and versatile block-based language. While Scratch themselves weren’t at Bett, we saw a vast

Card-based robots - A particularly popular category of early ages robotics, card-based robots (for want of a better name) are given simple instructions via cards - some require these cards to be inserted, while others read instructions from a board. The idea is relatively simple, making block-based programming very literal, but definitely appeals to younger learners, with a number of companies like Kubo presenting their own take on the idea.

Secondary school robotics

Along with the Raspberry Pi robotics mentioned above, and BBC micro:bit projects (we’ll be covering micro:bit at Bett later this week), Bett featured a significant number of robotics projects aimed at secondary students:

Student-programmed robots - In a lot of cases, the main difference between robots aimed at primary and secondary students is the manner in which they are given instructions. While primary robots tend to use block-based languages, secondary-aimed systems usually are controlled via text-based languages (typically Python) - at Bett, there was definitely no shortage of systems working like this, with most devices being either wheeled buggies or controllable arms.

Custom kits - Designing a robot from the ground up is a fantastically engaging project for Digital Makers, and one of the more interesting industries to have emerged in recent years focusses on making this project more accessible. Custom robotics kits usually include a variety of components (Raspberry Pis are typically used as a base for the robot), and are now produced by a huge range of companies. We’d recommend reading through ‘Robots Invade the Classroom’ in Hello World for a look at some of the better companies in this field.