Robot Petting Zoo(m)

I have enjoyed the Robot Petting Zoo (RPZ) project over the years, while in an actual classroom and while students could work together in small groups to design these fantastic creations. Students design and build these unique creatures out of everyday materials (cardboard, foam packing, construction paper) and robotics equipment (microcontrollers, sensors, motors, LEDs.). The robots are coded to sense their environment and then react to changes in that environment through movement, lighting up, and making audible noises.

There are several potential curricular connections, such as environmental issues in science, legends and story development in literature, artificial intelligence, or even a study of angular motion in physics. Educators have used the RPZ in different scenarios based on their own learning goals and their students’ age and readiness level.

The concept of the Robot Petting Zoo was originated by TechHive at the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley. Birdbrain Technologies, the maker of the Hummingbird and Finch robotics kits, provides a valuable resource for those seeking to learn more. For information, start here.

Students showcasing their robots to classmates at the Robot Petting Zoo exhibit in 2018

This year has been a struggle for students and teachers across the country, with a majority attending classes remotely. It’s no different here, in Los Angeles; possibly worse than most. As such, the Robot Petting ZOO will become the Robot Petting ZOOM. Students will pick up their set of Hummingbird robotics kits on campus and search their homes for building materials. We will schedule remote classes on Fridays for this project, as students learn how to design, code, and build over four weeks. We culminate with an online Robot Petting Zoo(m) to share our creations.

We will use the Snap! coding language to program the bots as it handles a Bluetooth connection well. As a design constraint, each student will have two LEDs, one RGB LED, a servo motor, and either a light sensor or a rotary dial to trigger responses. We plan to infuse an element of storytelling into the project, so students can hone their creative writing skills and give life to these creatures.

As part of their learning, I have a growing playlist of videos, which you can view here. This playlist will soon cover Snap! coding examples, design principles, and guidance on the safe use of construction tools. I am eager to see the final work of these student projects, but just as excited to engage in the learning process with them.

Have you done a Robot Petting Zoo with your students? I would love to hear about it and compare notes. Please comment below.

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