Hummingbird Robots


So you’re thinking about starting a robotics club? Good, you should! Why? Your students will love you for it. Trust me. I took the plunge three years ago by convert-ing my after-school computer club to a robotics club at Millboro Elementary School. That was my first choice.

The second choice was deciding what robot or kit to go with. I had seen a robot called Hummingbird that looked intriguing. It was also conducive to my budget, so I ordered three kits and our club got down to business. In fact, our club even had the opportunity to show off their creativity and hard work at the 2016 Virginia Children’s Engineering Convention!

By now you’re probably wondering what a Humming-bird robot is exactly. First of all, it’s not a robotic bird. Hummingbird is just the brand of this particular robot-ics kit. The kit comes with a Hummingbird controller, which connects to a computer, and has many output terminals for things like servos, motors, LEDs, and an array of sensors. The computer is used to program the con-troller to make an LED light up, a servo turn, or a sensor detect motion. The list goes on and on. To program the controller, my students like to use a program called Visual Programmer. However, you can also use Scratch, the beloved elementary-level programming software.

So now what? How do you make a robot with this stuff? Maybe an example would help here. Suppose you want to create a dog that barks and wags its tail when approached by someone. Your first step is to write a pro-gram where a distance sensor is used to trigger a sound, the bark, and a servo to rotate a tail back and forth. The hardest part is already over! Now, just find some card-board, construction paper, or other building materials and get to work. I also suggest a hot glue gun, lots of glue sticks, and paint. Once you have your design, you would then attach the tail to the servo that is activated by the distance sensor. When someone comes close, the tail will move and you will hear a bark from the computer’s speakers.

Now that you know how the Hummingbird works, what about your students? If you try to explain to students how to use this kit, you will likely see and feel frustration. To teach my students how to use the Hummingbird, I hand them a computer, a Hummingbird kit, and add a link on my webpage. That link gets them to the library of tutorials offered by Hummingbird. Within 15 minutes, I hear oohs and aahs as they connect an LED and make it light up.

The seventh-grade class that was invited to the 2016 convention did this part in sixth grade, so they had a basic understanding of how to program the Humming-bird and build a robot. This year I presented them with a specific challenge. They had to create a robot that was activated by a sensor and boy did they rise to the occasion! One group created a horse that when approached by a visitor would gallop in her pen and begin to neigh. A second group designed a velociraptor that when approached would begin opening its mouth to show its teeth, his eyes would glow red, and he made “velociraptor” sounds. My third group incorporated the sensor differently. They wanted to build a fortune teller that was activated when a coin was inserted much like the one seen in the ’80s movie “Big.” To do this, they placed a distance sensor behind the coin slot in order to activate the fortune teller when a coin was inserted.

The creativity and determination of this group of students amazed me. When something didn’t work as planned, they found solutions. If the first solution didn’t work, they would find another. This could happen three or four times, but like any good engineer, they were steadfast and solved the problems. The amount of pride these kids took in their work was awe inspiring to say the least.

If you’re apprehensive about Hummingbirds, don’t be. I was at first, too. After all, this isn’t a kit with step-by-step instructions on how to build something. It’s a kit that comes wide open to the creative mind. It takes play. It takes imagination. It takes engineering. And trust me, your students will figure it out.

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