WaterBotics (www.waterbotics.org) is the National Science Foundation-sponsored underwater robotics curriculum with the goal of providing hands-on experiences to middle and high school age youth in engineering design, information technology tools, and science concepts, and to increase awareness and interest in engineering and IT careers.
The curriculum, which can be used either in traditional classroom settings or in after-school and summer-camp situations, is problem-based, requiring teams of students to work together to design, build, test, and redesign underwater robots, or “bots” made of LEGO and other components. Students use the NXT and LEGO MindstormsTM software to program their robots to maneuver in the water, thereby gaining valuable experience with computer programming. Teams must complete a series of increasingly sophisticated challenges which culminates with a final challenge that integrates learning from the prior challenges.
WaterBotics has also been used with undergraduate engineering students and adult learners as well. The curriculum can be used in intensive, one-week summer camps or as a sequence of science or technology classes in school.
The huge variety of LEGO pieces available allows for a nearly infinite amount of solutions to a given task. This enables students to be highly creative and innovative, and results in an amazing variety of bots by the project's end.
Engineers are increasingly called upon to deal with complex, non-traditional, and previously unforeseen challenges. The underwater environment of the WaterBotics program gives students a sense of both the known and unknown challenges that real engineers face every day. And for those students who have participated in land-based robotics projects, the complexities of the underwater environment present unique demands that challenge even the most experienced robot designers.
Tasks such as getting the bot to float or sink, keeping it upright, compensating for the effects of water pushing against it, and getting it to move in three-dimensions, are novel challenges that correspond to specific science topics, such as buoyancy, drag, stability, and three-dimensional movement.
Participants in the Aug. 1-5, 2011 NASA WaterBotics Workshop at the Center for Educational Technologies at Wheeling Jesuit University range from Middle School students to adults (including college student, a science teacher, and a Girl Scout leader). Each of them are blogging from their own points of view.