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TETRIX® Virtual Robotics – the best of both worlds

Pitsco and Robotify deliver realistic digital-physical robotics experience

Published June 13, 2022
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Stop-gap online educational materials were prevalent during the pandemic, but many of these solutions fell far short of delivering the content – and experiences – students needed to stay engaged and grow their knowledge base.

For example, generic online robotics simulations seemed great, but by themselves could go only so far in delivering the experience students needed to fully understand robots’ applications in real life and the workplace. That’s why Pitsco went all in with development of TETRIX® Virtual Robotics (VR) simulation software, powered by Robotify.

The recently released digital/physical solution offers the best of both worlds – online and hands-on learning. Designed not as a quick fix due to the pandemic but instead as a long-term solution, TETRIX VR enables students to function like real-world engineers, designing and coding digitally and then building actual robots to carry out the code they create.

How big a deal is this versatile advancement for the TETRIX MAX building system? Very.

Back in late 2020, when the pandemic had turned education upside down, Joe Slifka, a longtime TETRIX advocate and an accomplished robotics instructor at LaBrae High School in Leavittsburg, Ohio, devised a clever, though cumbersome, way for his students to still experience coding and robotics. He had students code online using the text-based programming in the Arduino Software (IDE), and then they submitted their programs to Slifka, who later Zoomed with students remotely and ran their code through the physical TETRIX robot he had built. Nice alternative, but Slifka knew his students were missing out on perhaps the most important part of the process – building, tweaking, and operating the robot themselves.

“Learning to code was always reinforced for me with a physical component, which is why I absolutely love teaching robotics,” Slifka said. “Seeing my program in action with a robot driving forward and moving an object just made more sense to me and my kinesthetic learning style. Kinesthetic learners feel the same way.”

TETRIX VR ensures students get that full, kinesthetic involvement. Best of all, the custom simulation environment built by Robotify presents a realistic TETRIX experience, giving learners a better understanding of how the physical robots they build and employ will look and operate.

TETRIX VR comes with 15 activities totaling 22.5 hours of content, equally split between digital and physical robot activities. Each activity includes step-by-step coding instructions and delivers real-time feedback. Best of all, even coding novices can complete the engaging activities.

“No coding experience is required as we provide complete step-by-step instructions,” said Pitsco Curriculum Specialist Aaron Locke, who authored the activities. “We explain not only what to code but also how to code – debugging, writing clean code, all the best practices of coding.”

Followed by that irreplaceable opportunity for students to see their code carried out in a TETRIX robot they built – the best of both worlds.


STUDENT SUCCESS: TAG INSIGHT

As a member of The Ambassador Group (TAG) for Pitsco, Joe Slifka regularly gives insight into products and concepts, noting both the successful and unsuccessful. Joe and his students had the opportunity to beta test the TETRIX VR platform with the request to share their authentic experiences. Joe recently sent our team the following email with an update that validates the importance of the immersive digital and physical experience as a way to engage ALL learners, even the most disengaged.

Man, what an AWESOME class experience today!

So, we wanted to test to make sure the virtual program worked in real life, and I knew it wouldn’t if the sensor was more than 100 cm away from the wall. . . . I let them struggle for a bit and eventually one said, ”The closer it gets, it slows down. Does it have something to do with how far away it is?“ I said yes, and the kid who wanted to use the int x=0 yesterday (this senior doesn’t devote himself to school because he doesn’t feel like it is worth his time) has been working nonstop and extremely engaged since we started these lessons. He was the one to figure out, “The fastest the motors can go is 100%, right? So if we’re more than 100 cm away, can the motors go more than 100% power?” BOOM!

We got out a meter stick and tested the theory, and that was the end of my lesson. . . . until he says, “Well, how do we make it work?” I almost started crying, I was so elated!

So, I asked, what could we do to make it work if it is over 100 cm away? “Could we use one of those if statements?” Yes, an if statement will generate a true or false result. If it is true, it will do everything inside of these braces. “Well, since we are more than 100 cm away, it would automatically be false, so how do we get around that?” I skipped ahead and just verbally explained what an if/else statement is, so this kid says, ”So, if the robot is more than 100 cm away from the wall, we should just make it go at 100%, and then when it is closer, it should do the speed mapping thing.”

I give you his screenshot that worked beautifully.

Bell is about to ring, this senior, who doesn’t do a thing in many of his classes, wanted to stay after and program the servo to also be mapped to the distance and change position as the robot slows down, “So it looks like a speedometer, it goes down as the speed goes down as the robot gets closer to the wall.”

Validation, my friends.

“You can go in there on any given day and there’ll be a child who has a learning disability or a child who doesn’t speak English – we have just the whole range here – and they’ll be successful in that STEM lab.”

– Jay Parker, principal, Wallace Elementary School, Wallace, North Carolina

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