Thursday, March 26, 2009

But My Kid Wants to Build Robots

Abbreviated selections from my soon to be published book!

If you have a student interested in designing and building robots you are most likely going to want to gear the studies towards Mechanical Engineering, which includes math topics like Algebra, Geometry, Trig, Calculus and Physics. With this background one can then move into other specialized fields like Mechanical Computer Aided Engineering, Nano-Engineering, Marine Engineering and Aerospace. All of these fields are well suited for the visual spatial types where abstract thinking is a way of life.

Life After FIRST Lego League, Upstairs Roomba®

Nothing is better than having robots working for you in your home. We purchased 2 “home robots” from the iRobot® Corporation. These robots are fondly named iRobot® Roomba® Vacuum Cleaning Robots, or as we call them Upstairs Roomba® and Downstairs Roomba®. I thought that my student had outgrown taking telephones and vacuum cleaners apart, and he has, but alas, now it is only poor unsuspecting Roomba that has to worry some days.

The cool part about the iRobot® Corporation is that they have a most excellent handle on nerds that like robots. They have a whole line of gear and software for those of us who have a need to build robots at home. They offer home robots, tactical robots and here’s the best part: robots for developers. If you have a kid interested in building robots, this section of “Educators & Developers” tab is worth a look.

The other robot system we have learned from is the Vex® Robotics Design System. This set is a bit more complicated and might not be good for small hands, but medium hands with big minds will have a great experience with this. As with Lego®, this company supports competitions all over the United States.

What is Mechanical Engineering?

If it is mechanical and moves then most likely a mechanical engineer designed it. It would be hard to find an area or object in every day life that has not in some way had a mechanical engineer involved. Also, mechanical engineers design robots. Robotics, any kind of automation, environmentally responsible power generation, medical devices and any form of transportation are just some of the fields that require mechanical engineers.

If your kid is interested in the way things work, you may have a budding mechanical engineer.

Because Math and Science is so weak in American schools these days, more and more foreign students are filling the needs of these careers, taking innovation and technology out of our hands to other countries. It is a tough field to get into and mostly the top Universities take these kinds of students. If you have a student that seems to fit this description, he may have a brilliant future as a mechanical engineer. Generally, Mechanical Engineering is a five-year University program with the 4th and 5th years concentrating on a specific field of Engineering, like Mechanical Computer Aided Engineering, robotics, nano-engineering or Aerospace.

Mechanical Computer Aided Engineering

As a young adult I spent many years in the Mechanical Computer Aided Engineering (MCAE) field and one of the tickets to robotic design and engineering is an understanding of how computers work in conjunction with mechanical objects. The main thrust of this area is mechanical engineering with a concentration on geometric modeling – or 3-D geometry. This is used in simple and complex product design in items such as brake shoes and other parts for BMWs to plastic and metal parts for NASA devices, to entire flight systems for Boeing, to military applications.

The field of geometric modeling involves surface modeling or 3-D imaging on computer screens and exploring this technology can be fun.


Nano-Engineering is all about engineering that gets down to the granular details of molecules and atoms.

A subdivision of this kind of study is known s Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems or (MEMS). MEMS is the integration of mechanical elements, sensors, actuators, and electronics on a common silicon substrate through micro-fabrication technology. MEMS are also referred to as micro-machines or semi conductors.

Aerospace Engineering

Aerospace engineering is often called rocket science. If you saw the movie October Sky, then you might have some idea about how a rocket scientist thinks. Aerospace engineering is the branch of engineering behind the design, construction and science of aircraft and spacecraft.

This field is generally divided into two major paths: Aeronautical engineering and Astronautical engineering. Aeronautical engineering specializes in vehicles that stay within Earth's atmosphere. Astronautical engineering deals with craft that operate outside of Earth's atmosphere.

The unabbreviated selections in this soon to be published book also include Internet and text resources for nurturing a budding robot nerd!
Copyright 2009 by Amy Cortez