Robotics for future young engineers

As engineers, we all need to be introducing youngsters of all ages to the excitement and challenges in engineering. One of the most exciting areas for the young, budding engineer is Robotics. I want to discuss a few of my favorite kits as well as the effectiveness of these kits in educating the next generation of engineers.

TI-Innovator Rover

Let me start off with a really great effort by Texas Instruments with their TI-Innovator Rover for middle grades through high school.

The TI-Innovator Rover (Image courtesy of Texas Instruments)

The TI-Innovator Rover (Image courtesy of Texas Instruments)

This clever design has a TI graphing calculator at its heart, with which youngsters can do their programming. How many of you have used a TI calculator in school and/or projects in your career? I didn’t—in 1968, when I went to NYU Engineering—we had slide rules—mine was plastic and hung on my belt-I am proud of being a Geek! (I wish I had a calculator-there were some, but at that time they were more than a poor kid from Brooklyn could afford).

Students can use the built-in TI-Basic coding language to program TI-Innovator components. See this entry-level programming tutorial here. There is also an added coding platform for students here.

The TI-Innovator Hub will translate students’ commands from the calculator to the Rover. Students can also, separately develop basic coding and design skills for their other projects. Check out this video on CBS’ website to see what students in the classroom did with the Rover.

I love what TI has for math and science classroom tools for coding and engineering. See this site here.


One of the other top kits, of which I think very highly, is from littleBits. Here is a nice robotic kit in their Gizmo & Gadgets collection.

STORMLab Modular Architecture for Capsules (eSMAC)

This robotic kit is a reasonable cost, interoperable robotic kit with a variety of functional modules which the user can easily connect together with a snap-on three-wire magnetic connection. eSMAC robots have a 40-mm diameter cylindrical footprint, which are functional modules that can be stacked on top of one another. These modules include actuation, sensing, wireless communication, programmable units, and audio/ visual indicators. Robots can be programmed through a web-based user interface installed either as a plug-in or an app on the Google Chrome browser.

About the size of a 40 mm diameter tennis ball, this two-wheel mobile robot is made up of magnetic contact modules consisting of power, communication (Bluetooth is typically used), mobility, and two input (barometer and IMU) modules (Image courtesy of Reference 2)

About the size of a 40 mm diameter tennis ball, this two-wheel mobile robot is made up of magnetic contact modules consisting of power, communication (Bluetooth is typically used), mobility, and two input (barometer and IMU) modules (Image courtesy of Reference 2)

This product was designed with collaboration from high school teachers to improve STEM education as suggested by the Next-Generation Science Standards (NGSS) organization.

Last year, while at the MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress, I met with SEMI executives regarding STEM initiatives. Read about it here:

[Inspiring the next generation of potential technical talent in electronics]

Now, regarding the effectiveness of something like the Lego Robotics Training (LRT) by title LEGO Engineering. Reference 1 did a very preliminary study which investigated LRT as it related to youngster’s learning performance in mathematics. Their very preliminary conclusion was that LRT did not have a positive effect on mathematical ability and attitude. The caveat here is that the investigators said that future studies will be done on this topic with a larger and more diverse sample of participants.

My thinking is that LRT is good for STEM students and is an effective introduction to mathematics and engineering. I am looking forward to a more in-depth and diversified study in the future on this topic, but LEGO certainly has a very nice offering to STEM students in my opinion.

You can also read about how to properly introduce Math to STEM youngsters here: [Lagrangian Dynamics and Advanced Differential Equations are not for everyone]

Please share your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below and let our audience know if you have a favorite method to foster STEM.


1 Evaluating the Effectiveness of Lego Robots in Engaged Scholarship, Keshnee Padayachee, Patricia Mae Gouws, Marlou Lemmer, University of South Africa, 2015 Annual Global Online Conference on Information and Computer Technology, IEEE

2 STORMLab for STEM Education, Ekawahyu Susilo, Jianing Liu, Yasmin Alvarado Rayo, Ashley Melissa Peck, Justin Montenegro, Mark Gonyea, and Pietro Valdastri, June 2016, IEEE ROBOTICS & AUTOMATION MAGAZINE

3 comments on “Robotics for future young engineers

    January 24, 2018

    One more exciting offering in robotics is the F.I.R.S.T. Robotics competition for kids of all ages through High School.  This is a great program that is offered worldwide providing age-appropriate robotic competitions to inspire students to pursue engineering and technical degrees.  I can say from experience as a coach for a team as was as the father of a number of kids who went through the program it is a great learning and growing experience.

    At the High School level (FRC) students learn: mechanical, electrical, programming, system design and integration, testing, teamwork, time management and people skills truly a great program to consider.


  2. AlexSneedMiller
    February 2, 2018

    FIRST is a great organization


    If you've ever been exposed to LEGO robotics at an elementary school odds are it's the FIRST Lego League (grades 4-8) or FIRST Lego League Jr (grades K-3) program

  3. Steve Taranovich
    February 2, 2018

    @AlexSneedMiller—Yes—FIRST, initiated by Dean Kamen, who is a real humanitarian and a tech genius, gets youngsters together with local engineering/tech/educator talent in this exciting event.

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