University of Hertfordshire experts teach children how to build robots in this year’s UK Festival of Robotics

 1 January 2024 4 July 2023
4 July 2023

Experts from the University of Hertfordshire gave Hertfordshire primary school students a crash course in robotics this week, teaching programming, designing, ethics and more.

Researchers from the Robotics group in the School of Physics, Engineering and Computer Science visited Hatfield Community Free School on 20-23 June as part of the annual Robotics Fest, where they ran a series of workshops for the children.

The hands-on sessions showed students in Years 3-5 the most important aspects of robotics, demonstrating Herts’ dedication to fostering interest in STEM from an early age.

These included a session by lecturer Sílvia Moros, who taught the children how to programme an actual robot using Scratch, a block-programming language. The robot being programmed was Kaspar, a working robot designed at the University of Hertfordshire to act as a social companion improving the lives of children with autism and other communication difficulties.

A session on 3D printing and design software SketchUP, with lecturer Dr Luke Wood, explored how robots can be designed and constructed using computer-aided design (CAD) software.

Another lecturer, Dr Manal Helal, used the interactive robot, Pepper, to ask the children maths questions. Pepper is social humanoid robot which can recognise faces and human emotions. This session aimed to demonstrate development in the robots’ ability to have open conversations – and how they can be used in education as a result.

Finally, the school’s Year 5 students engaged in a discussion around ethics in the field of robotics, in a workshop led by Dr Catherine Menon, expert in the ethical concerns of new technologies such as robots, driverless cars and AI systems.

This year’s workshops, which have been running since 2018, took place on 20, 22 and 23 June 2023 at Hatfield Community Free School. They were organised as part of the UK Festival of Robotics, an annual national event celebrating UK robotics research and innovation, aiming to engage the public with robotics, AI, and automation through a mix of online and in-person events.

The University’s Robot House team also took part in the festival, with a live-streamed ‘RoboVacation’ event – as the robots helped the team get ready for their summer holidays. From packing a bag to making travel plans, the event showcased how these cutting-edge robots can help with everyday tasks, interact with humans, and support people’s independent living in the future. RoboVacation is available to watch on YouTube now.

Sílvia Moros and Dr Luke Woods, event coordinators and lecturers at the University of Hertfordshire, said:

"We're very happy to be back to Hatfield Free Community School for our Crash Course in Robotics. Our main goal has always been that the children learn about different aspects of science and technology in action, via the medium of robotics, and in a fun environment. We also hope to encourage and support a passion for STEM-related subjects through the interaction with the robots that we actually use in our research."

Ellen Summers, Assistant Vice Principal at Hatfield Community Free School, said:

“We have been lucky enough to collaborate with the University of Hertfordshire for several years working on the Robotics Week project. The children have always loved working with the team and this year was no different.

“Children took part in 3D printing, robot programming using SketchUp and using ChatGPT to watch a robot speak as naturally as possible whilst conducting a maths lesson. It is amazing to offer children an opportunity to use and learn about this ever-changing technology.”

Amelia, aged 8, said:

“I really enjoyed working with the Pepper robot who taught us maths and did a little dance, too!”

Wilfred, aged 8, said:

“I enjoyed controlling Kasper on Scratch, he was really funny. My favourite session was 3D printing because we could make our own models!”


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