Twin Tweaks ...
as in a movie theater, there is no small). Sorting through
the gray rivets to find the required size is not terribly vexing,
but stood out because of the otherwise impeccable
Now that we had sorted through all of the physical
components of the kit, we thought it was a good time to
have our orientation to the STEM curriculum. The Standard
STEM kit comes with two substantial books dedicated to
the curriculum. Each book contains numerous robot designs
buildable from the Standard kit, and each project is
organized into three phases: the basic phase, the
applications phase, and the problem-solving phase.
The basic phase includes a nice introduction to the
focus of the project — whether it’s understanding the idea
of a program as a set of sequential steps, adding sensing
capability to your robot, or appreciating the physics of
balance. The entire curriculum is copiously illustrated with
whimsical cartoons that bring even the most basic physics
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lesson to life, and leafing through the book hardly feels like
trudging through a dry instruction manual.
Because one robot design is useful for a range of
lessons, the basic phase also includes building the basic bot.
We thought the very first project would be a great way to
get a sense of the kit, so we set about building a buggy.
The building instructions are presented as isometric
drawings — much like instructions familiar to any kid that
grew up playing with LEGOs. The first lesson of the STEM
kit is about the nature of a simple program – a set of
orders that the robot follows in sequence. In a nice
interactive touch, the STEM lesson encourages new
roboticists to first list things that work in sequence, like
cups coming from a dispenser and staples coming from a
stapler. It’s easy to envision the same teaching process
implemented in a classroom – the teacher encouraging
students to write a few answers down, share them with the
class, then move on to the real excitement of building the
The manual includes some helpful caveats about
checking the orientation of certain parts when putting
things together, and there is a nice listing of all of the parts
needed for the upcoming build. With those last bits of
advice, the step-by-step construction instructions ensued.
The basic buggy is a very straightforward vehicle disposed
of in 15 painless steps. It’s a direct drive bot with two
wheels in the back and a caster in the front.
The primary mentor for our high school FIRST team
was our dad and — given his background doing the wiring
for race car engines — an appreciation for good clean
wiring was instilled in us with every season in Robot Central
(for those halcyon days, check out the September to
December 2004 issues of SERVO). Given that history, we
are always interested to see if robotics kits are cognizant of
the virtues of clean wiring. We were particularly interested
to see what kind of solution the STEM kit had in mind,
especially because the presence of six individual battery
holders meant six individual wires.
The solution came in the form of the parallel power
board — a small circuit board that sported eight sockets: six
for the battery wires, and two options for the battery cable
that went to the brain. One option was for 6V and the
other was for 9V. The parallel power board was a
reasonable way to keep the wiring clean, and it offers a
great teachable moment on the design and implementation
of parallel circuits.
Program of Concentration
With the construction of the bot sorted out, the last
step in the basic phase was to program the bot for the first
time. The STEM kit is programmed using the RoboPlus
software program. In a welcome display of modern
sensibility, the STEM kit does not come with a software CD.
Instead, the software is freely downloadable from the
Robotis website. The robot also comes with a USB cable
which seems like an obvious choice, but is not as obvious as