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Science Nation: Cubelets--Small Robots Teach Big Science Lessons

3 minutes

(Describer) Streams of light collide to create a globe filled with water. Title: Science Nation. Two kids connect small cubes, and one combination spins.

[explosion]

Uh-oh. Whee! [giggling]

(male narrator) These kids at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry are playing with Cubelets, small, smart modular robots.

(man) Cubelets are in three categories: sense, think, and act. That's our working definition of a robot. A robot is any mechanical device that senses, thinks, and acts.

(narrator) With support from the National Science Foundation, designer Eric Schweikardt and his team at Modular Robotics create these clever cubes. They're inspired by natural systems, like insect swarms or birds flying in V formations-- individuals that join forces and work together. The Cubelets are an example of a complex system. They're made of lots of little cubes. Each does something simple, like a distance-sensor cube and a drive motor cube with wheels and a battery cube. Put together, they do something greater

(Describer) He puts three together.

like drive when they detect an object. This one's a fun one.

(Describer) He fits three others together.

Here's a robot that scoots toward your hand. It's the aggressive one.

(Describer) A girl holds her hand over a moving combination and it stops.

[kids chattering]

Oh.

(narrator) The goal is to get kids to use computational thinking to explore scientific challenges.

(Schweikardt) We're finding traction in giving kids a tool kit to build complex systems and gain intuitions about how things fit together and how patterns emerge.

(Describer) Computer chips are assembled and fit inside.

(man) A hundred and twenty-five components in this cube.

(Describer) Matthew Capron:

That's why we test in many different steps.

(narrator) Schweikardt and his team design and manufacture Cubelets in Boulder, Colorado. They hope to spark confidence in the next generation of scientists and engineers, learning skills today to solve complicated problems in the future. It's a different way of thinking about the world.

(narrator) The Cubelets are being tested at science museums and are headed to schools and the marketplace. With a sensor? Yeah, a sensor.

(narrator) Schweikardt says at the Durango Discovery Museum in Colorado, and everywhere the Cubelets are tested, most kids grab them and start building. Robots working together to help young scientific minds do the same.

(Describer) A globe turns by the title.

For Science Nation, I'm Miles O'Brien.

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Cubelets are magnetic, electronic building blocks, each with a small computer inside, that can be connected in many different ways to move around a table, follow a hand signal, turn on a light, play sounds, or do many other creative tasks. They were developed by Eric Schweikardt and his team at Modular Robotics, with support from the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. These 21st century building blocks are meant to help kids learn about the basics of robotics while boosting their confidence to solve problems.

Media Details

Runtime: 3 minutes

Science Nation
Episode 1
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 2
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 3
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 4
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 5
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 6
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 7
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 8
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 9
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 10
4 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12