Students in the Bryan school district’s Odyssey Academy at SFA Middle School on Monday got a closer look at the robots they are learning to program this year.
Yibo Zheng, head of operations at RoboMaster North America, visited Bryan to show the students how robots can be programmed and used in games when they get to high school and college.
Odyssey Academy robotics teacher Naveen Cunha said the visit was part of his goal of expanding his students’ idea of what robotics can be and how it can be used, whether it is something they might be considering as a job or career or just something fun to students do in their spare time.
“I think a lot of times, really, the only things you see in the media in robots are like ‘Transformers,’” he said, “these big giant robots beating each other up, but there are so many practical uses for robots. ”
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Earlier in the year, his students did research projects and presented the different ways robots can be used in many fields, including in medicine, exploration and as toys.
“Again, it’s more of just exposing them to all the different ways that they can be used and for them to consider, ‘Oh, this is something I might be interested in,’” Cunha said.
At this stage in the introductory robotics class, he said, the students are learning about programming and said the programming they will be doing on their first small robots is the same the Texas A&M RoboMaster team uses for its competitions.
He said Zheng’s presentation was all about helping the students understand what the robots can do, how they work and how they can be used beyond just as toys.
“Just think what you can do with all these capabilities in the real world,” Cunha said. He said they have talked about the new Amazon drones that are coming to the area and the self-driving Tesla he was recently behind in the Bryan-College Station area.
“Trying to help them make connections what we’re doing in the classroom with the next stage, which is high school, university and the public,” he said.
With the theme of Mission to Mars, Cunha said, he has a map that shows where the rovers are on Mars’ surface, and the students will be tasked with programming their robot to explore the area on the map.
Eighth grade Odyssey Academy robotics students Jose Gomez and Baylee McBride said they both first became interested in robotics after taking an engineering class last year.
Gomez said he did not perform the basic steps, such as the basics of engineering and design, they needed to learn before diving into programming the robots.
McBride noted the group project they just completed where they looked at the different uses for robots in the real world. Both McBride and Gomez said one thing they learned with the project is just how to work with a group and with other classmates.
The best part of Zheng’s visit, they both said, was when the students had the chance to take control of the robots.
Both Gomez and McBride called the class one of their most fun.
“You get to have fun in that class,” McBride said.
Cunha said seeing the different uses for robots has convinced some students to pursue it in high school and college, and he hopes his current students keep their interest in robotics and realize the broader uses for them beyond being a toy.
“They may not do it as a career, but at least don’t count it out as an option; it’s something they can do,” he said. “It’s giving them more options. That’s really what our program is about is giving them more options and opportunities.”