Buidling the Anyway NXT Scooter

The "Anyway" in profile
The “Anyway” in profile
The "Anyway" self-balancing scooter -balancing itself.
The “Anyway” self-balancing scooter – balancing itself.

As I mentioned in my last post, my sons’ school had a science fair last week where I ran a demonstration involving angular momentum and gyroscopes.  In researching the use of gyroscopes in engineering today, I found that extremely large gyroscopes, weighing up to hundreds of tons, are used to stabilize ships, and extremely small gyroscopes that operate by vibration are used in electronic circuitry, such as that in smart phones and video game controllers.  One application that many people are familiar with is the use of gyroscopic sensors to stabilize self-balancing two-wheel scooters, like the Segway.

Googling “self-balancing robots” reveals a remarkably large number of homemade robot

Read moreBuidling the Anyway NXT Scooter

A LEGO Mindstorms NXT Curriculum

LEGO Mindstorms SetLast spring I taught an after-school class on LEGO Mindstorms robotics and the NXT programming language at my son’s elementary school.  The motivation for the class was to provide a good introduction to LEGO Mindstorms, and I hoped that some of the kids who took the class would sign up for our FLL (FIRST LEGO League) team in the fall.

I worked pretty hard to create a curriculum for the class, and I’m uploading it in case anyone would like use the lessons to teach a similar class.  LEGO Mindstorms is a terrific, easily accessible, introduction to robotics, and frankly just a whole lot of fun.  One word of advice:  If you don’t own a set yet, you might want to wait until the fall, as a new revision, called Mindstorms EV3 will be coming out then.

You can download the curriculum here in Word Document format (large file): 

or download it in PDF format:


Jr. FLL Expo at Legoland

Today was a big day for the members of our two Jr. FLL teams, the Super Sonic Seniors and the Ultimate Elderlies.  The coaches and kids, along with family and friends, hopped into cars, and drove from Los Angeles to Carlsbad, CA for the largest Jr. FLL Expo in the world.  Over 100 Jr. FLL teams will attend one of four Expo sessions this weekend in which they share their research projects and posters with other teams and judges from the Legoland staff.

The Super Sonic Seniors posing, sort of, in front of their poster and LEGO model at the Jr. FLL Expo.
The Super Sonic Seniors posing, sort of, in front of their poster and LEGO model at the Jr. FLL Expo.

As I mentioned in a previous post, this year’s Jr. FLL research theme is “Super Seniors”, involving an interview with a senior citizen, and research into some change that the senior noticed in her lifetime.  The Super Sonic Seniors put together a poster detailing the history and development of television and built a model of a television containing a rotating stage with two scenes.  Placing the TV “remote” in front of a distance sensor in the model triggers the rotation of the stage, which changes the content and “channel” being shown on the television.  The Ultimate Elderlies researched the evolution of long distance communication, doing detailed research on the Pony Express, the telegraph, cell phones and emails as successive improvements in mankind’s ability to communicate.  Their LEGO model contained Lego renditions of each of these modes of communication, including a motor-driven telegraph that made a very realistic clicking sound, and a scene of a LEGO driver using his cell phone in a car, only to be pulled over by a policeman.

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Jr. FLL – Super Seniors rock!

Jr. FLL (Junior FIRST LEGO League) is a terrific organization designed to introduce kids ages 6 to 9 to the concepts of basic engineering, scientific research and teamwork, among other valuable skills. This is my second year in a row coaching my youngest child’s Jr. FLL team, (actually, a friend and I are co-coaching two teams together) and we’re working hard, learning a lot, and truly enjoying the process.

Our Team T-shirt Designs
Our Jr. FLL Team T-shirts. It’s important to have cool shirts to wear to the Expo. Drawings were done by team members

Each year, the Jr. FLL organization promotes a different scientific theme. This year’s is “Super Seniors”. Our two teams, each consisting of six third graders,  named themselves “Super Sonic Seniors” and “Ultimate Elderlies”.  This year’s Jr. FLL project requires each team to find and interview a “senior partner” over the age of 60 about changes the senior has experienced in his lifetime. The team then chooses one of the topics they discussed, researches it, and prepares a poster board on what they have learned and builds a motorized LEGO model related to their research topic.

The “Super Sonic Seniors” chose to research changes in television. We learned a lot about television technology and content in the years since its inception.  Did you know that the first working television system was mechanical and developed in the late 1800’s?  In addition to their research,  the team members created a LEGO model of a television that “changes channels” by rotating a platform with two different scenes when you press a button on the “remote”.

Read moreJr. FLL – Super Seniors rock!