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Mark Tilden on “What is the best way to get a robotics education today?”

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15 September 2013



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In the past, a robotics education started with any inspiration that filtered through the sparse media of the time. Imagine a dull illness during a bland winter, black and white TV on a fuzzy channel, and then out of nowhere, mom drops a Jack Kirby ‘Fantastic Four’ comic on your sickbed.

In full color.

For those who remember, King Kirby was a genius at thick rendered, forced perspective sci-fi illustrations: spaceships, weapons, and best of all robots in immaculate detail, exciting situations, and traceable isomorphic projection.

Robotic education starts then, tracing and drawing your plans, usually in crayon.  That kind of inspiration is vital to keep the obsessiveness to face the thousands of hours needed before you have something you can be proud of (or paid for).

Following the sketches come the personal discoveries and skills needed to remove your hardware fears: Tinkertoys, Lego, Meccano, balsa airplanes, general disassembly (no alarm clock is safe!), car repair, welding shop, and (if you can afford it) servo-based RC items which give an instinctive feel for  set-point positioning and materials strength.

(Your electric screwdriver is your best learning tool, so get a good one.)

After that, a quality robotics education can be picked up pretty much anywhere, provided you’re an ADHD polyglot with a hankering for electronics, electrics, power systems, industrial and product design, acoustics, physics, statics, materials science, animation, behavioral rendering, dynamics, AI, firmware and app programming, illumination focusing and filters, sensors, vision systems, gradient optimization, interfaces and protocols, haptics … (list continues ad-infinitum as speaker fades into distance, then back up), then you’ll be fine.

But first and always …

When I occasionally get to lecture before K-through-12s with a dozen various  robots, I like to point out that: ‘Robotics isn’t one thing, it’s *everything* that makes technology cool brought together. What you’re learning in school *now* applies to how these work.’

Then I get one of my robots to burp animatedly, to emphasize the point.

Afterwards the class plays with the bots and fights over the remotes, but sometimes you get a kid who asks insightful questions, wants specific details, shows a deliberate interest, and a fascination with what now might be possible.  Something he never thought accessible before.

Inspiration delivered?

One in a thousand.

Good luck kid.

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Mark Tilden is a panel member for Robohub's Robotics by Invitation series.





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