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2017-2018 Features

STEM: Building Machines that Emulate Humans

Female student working on robotic hand

What's better than students programming robots? Students building their own robots, of course!

In this activity, students learn the anatomy of the human hand and how to mirror their own hand movement into a robotic hand. They have opportunities to practice problem-solving, teamwork, and communication. Students explore computer science and data analysis, along with mechanical and electrical engineering -- all 21st century technical skills.

The project consists of two builds. First, students make a sensorized glove from cardboard, copper tape, and pressure sensitive conductive plastic, plus a robotic hand engineered from straws, string, servo motors and more cardboard. The glove is then worn by the student to control the robotic hand and test it with a set of tasks. Data (flexion and extension of fingers) is visualized and analyzed with a customized Excel workbook.

How did this project come about? Innovation Strategist Dawn Guilder learned about the Building Machines that Emulate Humans (aka the Robotic Hand) at a workshop with the Microsoft Hacking STEM team. She built one herself and shared what she learned with Library and Instructional Technology Teachers (LITT) and science teachers.

The first step was building the hand and sensory glove. She then contacted science teachers in person and asked LITTs to recommend teachers who they thought would be interested.

Two pioneering teachers, Heidi Vandenhooff at Cedar Park and Burton Reed at ACMA, with their students, have completed the project. Reed said, "I was able to see some students who usually tend to be on the fringe of their group really step up and take a leading role in this project." Vandenhooff said the project provided "super kid engagement" and "great problem solving opportunities." Maia, a student in Reed's class, noticed, "Other students in the class, who were not into science so much before, were much more excited to be doing something hands on."