Welcome to the news blog of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Future Autonomous Robotic Systems (FARSCOPE). Please also visit our main web page at http://farscope.bris.ac.uk and follow us on Twitter. FARSCOPE is based at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, a partnership between the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Project Tortoise

Over 70 years ago, Bristol-based scientist William Grey Walter performed pioneering experiments in robotics.  He build robot tortoises whose analog electronic controls were simple but could mimic quite complex and natural-looking behaviour.  Many current "hot topics" in robotics can be traced back to Grey Walter's work, especially bio-inspiration and the emergence of complex behaviour from simple components.  His experiments are shown in this Youtube video and one of his original tortoises can be seen on the left in the photo below, in restored condition at the Bristol Robotics Lab.
First year students from BRL's FARSCOPE Centre for Doctoral Training have built modern versions of the tortoises.  A very early prototype is shown on the right of the original above.  The new tortoises are designed for educational use and feature a Raspberry Pi computer, flexible sensors, and dedicated software to simplify coding.  The goal of "Project Tortoise" was to develop a complete activity for STEM outreach in local schools, including hardware, software, and teaching material.  The final outcome is a set of 20 working tortoises complete with a lesson plan introducing robotics principles and helping students code robot behaviour.
The tortoises were launched at a special one-day "Meet the Experts" session at the At-Bristol science centre on June 30th, to coincide with activities across the UK as part of UK Robotics Week 2016.  Visitors included special guests from Lebanon, the winners of the 1st Lebanon Raspberry Pi Competition for Schools, shown above with FARSCOPE students and three of the production tortoises.
Project Tortoise's grand finale was a day at Abbeywood School, just down the road from BRL, where teachers Octavio and Frankie joined FARSCOPE students to introduce the tortoises to their curriculum enhancement class.  It was great to see FARSCOPE and Abbeywood students working together on their robots and the final obstacle course (above) was very exciting for all.
The FARSCOPE first years (above) learnt a lot from this project, which stretched management and presentation skills as well as developed new technical expertise.  The tortoises themselves will now be in routine service for STEM ambassador visits and future outreach projects.