San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Future Tico Engineers Show Off Their Robots

MORE than 100 students and 40teachers gathered on the second floor ofthe Children’s Museum in San José Sept.24 for the second School RoboticsFestival.Wearing red ties and handkerchiefs tosignify their involvement in the PedagogicRobotics Project, students presented robotsto their piers at the festival, which wasstarted to encourage more schools to jointhe project.Huddled together around computermonitors, and sitting on the ground ingroups, the 128 students shared informationabout their robots and how they work.Among the many robots were small cars,trucks, experimental vehicles, animal-likecreatures and even a mechanical carwash –built to scale for the vehicles to maneuverthrough.The festival occurs every two years,allowing plenty of time for participatingclasses to develop their own approach tothe many mechanical and constructionpossibilities for the next festival. In all,1,400 students from 15 different primaryschools throughout Costa Rica now boast arobotics program.COSTA Rican electromechanicalengineer Steve Acosta, with the RoboticsDepartment of the non-profit Omar DengoFoundation, which funds the programalong with the government, offered technicalsupport to teachers and students duringthe one-day festival.“The students are using Lego controllersand Robolob software developedby Natural Instruments, and with thesekits, we are getting them excited aboutbasic engineering concepts while findingsolutions to basic mechanical problems,”Acosta said.Although the Lego equipment used bystudents allows them to fully develop automatedrobots, Acosta said, it is moreexpensive than the GoGo board controllersthat will soon become an option for theprogram.GoGo board, in addition to being aless-expensive alternative, also lends itselfto a more organic process for design byfacilitating work with many different kindsof materials, Acosta explained. Almostanything can be used, from discarded scannersand printers to old gears and modelparts – and all sorts of other discardedmechanical and electrical objects.ARNAN Sipitakiat, a visiting Ph.D.student at the MIT Media Laboratory andGoGo board developer from Thailand, hasbeen working closely with Costa Rica’srobotics project in the past month, and as aresult the program has begun manufacturingGogo boards here in Costa Rica to beused by the students.He told The Tico Times they plan onmaking inexpensive controllers – as anadditional option to the Lego Controllersfor the robotics project.With this new equipment becomingavailable, Acosta says he is hopeful not onlythat many more students will be able to participatein the program, but that the newequipment will take the program to a newlevel, resulting in even more unique robots.

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