The Kids' Club, run by the Department of Computer Science at the University of Joensuu in Eastern Finland, gives children the chance to construct robots using the LEGO Mindstorms kits (The LEGO group, 2002) and program them using computers. The children in the club are all between 10 and 14 years old and have been participating in the group for up to one year. They have developed a competent understanding of programming and basic robotics, which was demonstrated by the success they achieved in winning their league in the RoboCup Junior robot football world cup (Executive Committee for RoboCup-2002, 2002).
The task of creating robots and programming them has proved to be both mentally and technologically challenging. Often the children encountered problems that were not related to their actions. The technical environment, comprising computer hardware, software and robotics kits has been sometimes unreliable, which can disrupt the children's learning process. The staff of Kids' Club have recognised the need for a computer-based environment, which allows rapid and flexible generation of simulated robots, their behaviour and problem-oriented tasks for them to solve. A simulation environment would help the children to construct the mental models of robots and their tasks without being distracted by real-world problems such as non-working connections between the robot and the computer being used to program it. In this paper we describe the outline for a system that simulates the robotics environment.
This paper is in three main sections. The first describes the activities of the Kids' Club and the goals set for it. The second section outlines Empirical Modelling (EM) and how it is suited to the creation of environments for investigative exploration. The third section explains the pedagogical issues surrounding the creation of a computer-based environment to investigate robot behaviours and how EM is an appropriate way to address these issues. A preliminary outline for the proposed system is also described in the third section.
Here is a link to a Web Eden variant of the Robotics Simulation Environment discussed in this paper.