Jordan and I took a field trip to tour Carnegie Robotics here in Pittsburgh. The tour was geared towards introducing robotics for kids. We learned about different types of robots, what is robotics exactly, and the robotics kits that can be purchased to learn at home. I hope that you read this with your kids and almost feel like you were there with us. Carnegie Robotics does plan on having more tours. It is their goal to encourage the next generation of kids to think about robotics as a career choice.
The whirring noise is the first thing that caught my attention. It was the kind of noise that makes you jump and wonder if you accidentally turned something on in someone else’s home. Actually, this was worse. This was in the waiting room of a company that asks if you are a United States citizen and takes your photo before allowing you any further into the building. I worried that MP’s would show up soon and cart me off.
Then the kids started laughing. It was the laugh of pure joy mixed with shock. As a mom, you know that laugh as the sound that makes run for the paper towels first and you will ask questions later.
Immediately I was jostled and bumped by several kids smaller than I am. Which is saying something because I am only 5 feet tall, exactly. They were all headed towards something moving on the floor.
As it came closer I realized what it was.
My very first, up close and personal, encounter with a robot. J took a video of the kids manipulating a robot while we ate lunch. Thankfully he left the sound off.
Justin Marini has a heart for teaching about robotics for kids.
He is a homeschool dad and a mechanical engineer for Carnegie Robotics. It was his brainchild to allow kids to come and explore what they are creating and working on. They want to reach the next generation of engineers and get them interested now while they are still young.
When our homeschool co-op asked who would be interested in a field trip to Carnegie Robotics to learn about robotics for kids I was intrigued. Was this a museum, or a store, or a class?
When I googled it all I saw a picture of a blue industrial building against a gray sky and located in an interesting neighborhood. They wanted us to take our kids there?! That did not look safe or interesting.
What I learned is that Pittsburgh has been on the cutting edge of robotics since the 1970’s. Tech jobs took over after the steel industry jobs left. Carnegie Mellon Institute has a world renowned robotics program. Carnegie Robotics is an off shoot of that research. They get the ideas that work and then capitalize on them. The money then funds more research. Rinse and repeat.
This old building was part of the Pittsburgh steel mills.
Who knew there were so many different types of robots?
Justin showed us a few of the robots they are currently developing. There were a lot of things we could not see because we don’t have a government security clearance. We were told that we were not to take pictures without his permission. If we accidentally did we would get a “friendly” visit from the FBI. We all suddenly felt very special, and the made jokes about the results of such a visit.
He rattled off the different kinds of robots. I couldn’t write fast enough to catch them all. NASA has a great page for kids to learn about them. As you read through the description of the robots we saw try to figure out what kind of robot they are.
The first thing we saw was a huge laser cutter. I think that would be an articulated robot. We were asked to put foam plugs into our ears first because it gets really loud. The machine was behind red plastic sheeting so the bright light it emits didn’t hurt our eyes. You can see how precise a laser cut is in this video.
As we turned around we saw a huge minesweeper robot. This machine was requested by the U.S. Military to detect hidden bombs planted mere feet underground. They are put there by enemy soldiers and are hard to detect once the fighting is over. It had a large robotic arm that swept back and forth. This was something I was told to not take a picture!
This was something I was told to not take a picture! I even tried looking for pictures online but couldn’t. Maybe you can draw a picture of what a minesweeper might look like?
Another robot that Justin showed us was a smaller robot that’s used for repetitive tasks like painting a car. That’s a job that requires a consistent back and forth motion. Justin programmed this robot to draw a simple happy face for the kids. The drawing took about 1 minute. It took him three hours to program it to do that because he had to tell the robot exactly when the start, where to start, how long to, when to return, how hard to push, and all kinds of other variables. He also had to test and retest to get it almost perfect. Many of the kids wanted to test the robot themselves.
We and the kids weren’t allowed behind the heavy metal gate because that would have been dangerous. A German scientist was recently held against a wall by a robot and could not return its arm because he was stuck against the wall. He suffocated from the pressure. There are a lot of signs and warnings all over the building to remind people that robots are machines and to always be aware of what you are doing.
The final machine was a strawberry root sorter and was created for the California Strawberry Commission. After plants are harvested the farmer would have to go through the roots to see which ones were worth using again. It was a long and tedious process requiring a lot of people. The process of sorting the strawberry plants is really fascinating. The big machine will pull apart truckload of plants, sort into individual plants, dump it on a conveyor belt, swish it past lights and a high speed linear camera, takes a picture of plants, sorts the good from bad, shoots them with 144 air jets, and deposits them in the right bin.
We got to see it sort a small bushel. It all happened so fast the kids did not even have time to blink. They all said “Whoooaaaaa!” at the same time. Then, of course, they wanted to see it all again.
What is robotics, exactly?
Thankfully, that is when Justin announced that lunch was served! We had Salmon Florentine, Italian vegetable lasagna, vegetable rice medley, and chocolate cupcakes for dessert. Cold drinks or any kind of coffee drink was also available. The company caters the lunches every day because they have to compete with other tech companies like Google to keep qualified workers. The kids decided that they would love a job in robotics if you could get all the food and treats you wanted.
As the kids ate Justin told that when he was a kid he dreamed of living with robots. Now that he is grown he gets to do just that. He even has robots in his home. He asked the kids what is robotics really. This was in fact not our first, up close and personal, encounter with a robot.
We use robots every time I turn on a microwave, or the dishwasher, or even our toothbrush. Robotics is the branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, and application of robots. A robot is a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer.
Carnegie Robotics is looking for mechanical, electrical, technical, quality, and software engineers. They also need people in graphics and design. Justin pointed out that the customer has a preconceived idea of how a product should look. If the military hires them to design a product it had better be rough and tough even if it doesn’t need to be to work well. The same machine would need to be sleek and compact if a business bought it. A buyer/inventory control specialist keeps track of where all the pieces and parts are kept down to the tiniest screw. The kids understood that robotics can be for everybody.
We all walked back to our cars on a gray, cloudy day having a lot more appreciation all the ways robots make our lives better, even if they can sometimes be really loud.
If you would like to learn more about robots these robotics kits for kids are a great place to start.
READ MORE VIRTUAL FIELD TRIPS!