Robots helping in the event of disasters

A teaching material that takes it starting point from the HBO series Chernobyl. The lesson plan can be used independently in relation to Technological Literacy in the primary school, or be used as input to a cross curricular lesson plan about The effects of radiation on living organisms, or as a lesson plan for Matter and Energy in Nature and Science.

This lesson plan is thought as a way to activate the pupils’ competences in modelling as well as their abilities to put things into a perspective.

Materials needed:

  • Fable Spin
  • Fable Joint
  • Hub (dongle)
  • Passive modules
  • Accessories
  • Computer with Fable Blockly installed
  • Possibly smartphone with Fable Face installed
  • Webcam
  • LEGO and cardboard or something similar, that could serve both as obstacles or “graphite”-debris/rubble.
  • Optionally: a 3D printer or a laser cutter to make prototypes.

(If you wish to use this lesson plan independently, it could be a good idea to just pick some of the lessons, and work with the content.)

Knowledge and proficiency objectives, that are essential, that the pupils have obtained prior to the lesson plan.

Physics-Chemistry

Particles, waves and radiation

      Proficiency objective Knowledge objective
Research in Physics-

Chemistry

The pupil is able to research types of radiation

The pupil is able to research the result of processes on an atomic level

The pupil has a knowledge about radiation

The pupil has a knowledge about the atomic nucleus and the system of electrons

Modelling in Physics-
Chemistry
Using a table of nuclides, the pupil is able to describe the decay of unstable atomic nuclei, including by using interactive models. The pupil has a knowledge about the processes of an atomic nucleus
Discussion in Physics-
Chemistry
The pupil is able to distinguish between natural and man made ionising radiation. The pupil can explain the development of and the perspectives in using nuclear power, including by using animations and simulations The pupil has a knowledge about the effects of ionising radiation on organic and inorganic material

The pupil has a knowledge about nuclear fission

Biology

Body and Health

Proficiency objective Knowledge objective
Research in Biology The pupil is able research the living conditions of organisms. The pupil has a knowledge about the life functions of organisms
Modelling in Biology The pupil is able to research the correlations to health bewtween body, diet, and exercise, including by using digital tools The pupil has a knowledge of factors with significance for bodily functions, health and physical fitness
Discussion in Biology The pupil is able to explain problems of environment and health, locally and globally

The pupil is able to discuss current solutions and suggestions of action and the conflicting interests related to problems of environment and health.

The pupil has a knowledge of the biological backgrounds for health problems.

The pupil has a knowledge of the biological background for methods of prevention and cure.

Geography

The natural foundation and conditions of life

Proficiency objective Knowledge objective
Research in Geography The pupil is able to research the significance of the natural foundation for the relations of production The pupil is able to research the significance of the natural foundation for the relations of production
Modelling i Geography The pupil has a knowledge about the interests and the view on nature related to the exploitation of natural resources and environmental protection The pupil has a knowledge about the interests and the view on nature related to the exploitation of natural resources and environmental protection
Discussion in Geography The pupil is able to assess the conflicting interests and possible solutions to the exploitation of natural resources The pupil has a knowledge about the interests and the view on nature related to the exploitation of natural resources and environmental protection

The disaster!

On Saturday April 26th a reactor exploded on the nuclear power plant near the town of Chernobyl in the Soviet Union – now Northern Ukraine. It became the worst nuclear disaster ever. Radioactive pollution caused many deaths, and in the years following the disaster, the incidence of thyroid cancer was remarkably increased. The population in the area around Chernobyl in Ukraine and in the neighboring countries like Belarus, are still living with the fear of the effects of the accident. Also in Scandinavia the Chernobyl accident created panic, and it became an important factor in the campaigns against nuclear power in the 1980’ies.

In the HBO series, Chernobyl, you follow the events surrounding the nuclear accident in Chernobyl in 1986.

In episode 4 they want to encase the exploded core, but to do that, they have to remove the graphite debris, that is in the way of encasing the core, that caused the accident.

It is very dangerous for people to do this, as the danger of radiation is so extreme, the people risk dying, even after being exposed only for a brief time. 

So they try using robots. These robots are remote controlled, and by using a camera mounted on the robot, you can tell where the robot is.

Lesson What the teacher does What the pupils do
1st lesson The teacher gives a presentation about modelling and research e.g.

  • Which types of modelling are there? Verbal models, actual models, interactive models etc.
  • What do you need to research something? Thesis, observations, conclusion.

In class talk about how we achieve the different objectives.

The pupils pay attention

The pupils pay attention and take part in the debate sharing their own thoughts and experiences.

2nd lesson  Show clips from the DARPA Robotics Challenge as well as from the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. In class talk about which dangers and problems could arise in a situation like this. The pupils pay attention and contribute with their thoughts about solutions and dangers.
3rd-5th lesson The pupils are handed assignment 1

You have to build and program a Fable Robot, so it can be remote controlled and remove obstacles on the floor in front of it.

Control the robot for instance by using your keyboard.

(Now the teacher acts as a guide)

(The teacher gives the assignment a twist with assignment 2. Make a short presentation about the twist, and draw connections to the DARPA Robotics Challenge and the Fukushima nuclear disaster)

Assignment 2: 

Challenge: You can’t see further ahead than where the robot is situated, other than what is shown through a camera (webcam), that you have to mount on the robot. You now have to navigate your Fable Robot with this challenge (where you are only allowed to “look” through the “eye” of the robot).

The pupils start by creating a mindmap of what they want their robot to be able to do.

The pupils start programming

The pupils draw connections to the DARPA Robotics Challenge and the Fukushima nuclear disaster.


They experiment with mounting the webcam. They continue programming. 

6th-7th lesson Competition.

Assignment 3.

One way of getting the robot to “make it” is, if it is inside of the area for a short period of time, seeing as it is capable of withstanding the radiation for a short period of time. So you have to try to solve the task of clearing nuclear waste (graphite) from the area, but this time within a time frame of 3 minutes. Try to solve the assignment, where you are allowed to look where the robot is, then by looking only through the camera.

(In this phase the teacher is passive, unless one or more groups get completely stuck.)

The pupils practise and optimise, then they show to the class, how they plan to solve this assignment.

Even if the challenge of radiation could be overcome, there would still be a lot of other challenges.

The disaster area itself is usually very impassable, and therefore it can be difficult for a robot, designed especially for one specific type of task. A lot of the tasks inside the area would be very different.

One solution that has been tried is humanoid robots. The reason why, is the fact that many of the tasks, the robots had to solve, were tasks, where it would be easiest to get a person to do it (but obviously it wasn’t possible for a person to be there).

If there had been robots around, that were able to solve the challenges within the plant, they would have been able to solve the challenges within the first critical 24 hours, and the disaster could have been avoided.

The disaster at Fukushima has spurred robot companies world wide to focus more on building robots, that can help in the event of disasters.

A unit within the US Military, DARPA, has created a robotics competition, where different robot companies and research units can participate.

The competition consists of 8 challenges:

  1. Drive a vehicle to a disaster site
  2. Walk across debris
  3. Remove obstacles
  4. Open doors
  5. Use a tool to break down e.g. doors with
  6. Climb ladders
  7. Turn valves
  8. Repair different things with tools.

Humanoid robots 

8th+9th lesson or 

1st-3rd lesson with younger pupils

The teacher and the pupils work together. In this lesson plan the teacher acts as the energy-provider of the group.

Create a Padlet or a mindmap of what a humanoid robot should be able to do to solve the different tasks during a disaster.

Make a list of both challenges and possible solutions.

The pupils get started building and programming a Fable Robot to be able to solve some of the challenges. They may remote control the robot and try to explain what they would have made Fable do, if it was possible (e.g. walk on two legs, if that would be an ideal solution).

During the Chernobyl disaster, there was no such thing as robots able to withstand the dangers of radiation for long enough (or there wasn’t willingness to ask the international society for help). So they wound up using people (with whatever dangers of radiation followed).

But if they should have used robots, it would have to be robots, able to get across or around obstacles. That means it would have to be an all terrain vehicle, to some extent. In the case of Chernobyl the robot should even be able to move, or push over an edge, the “debris” from graphite, so it is possible to encase the highly radioactive graphite, and prevent further damage.

4th-6th lesson with younger pupils The teacher and the pupils still work together. Maybe a group of “engineers” is appointed, that can guide and generate ideas in the group.

They have to build and programme a Fable Robot, to be able to drive over “debris” and other obstacles, and pick up blocks of graphite and take them to a depot or roll them off an edge.

The robot can be remote controlled, but they only have 3 minutes to solve the task. That is the amount of time, the robot is able to withstand the radiation without breaking.

Try several times, and see if you can improve your construction.

Self controlling robots

In the previous lessons, we have worked with robots, controlled by humans, but what if the robot has to operate and be able to make decisions? This can be done by using sensors.

Fable Spin also has sensors:

Colour sensor

Light sensor

Proximity sensor

Infrared sensor

Furthermore, the camera, which is mounted on the robot, can be used as a sensor e.g. for detecting colour

10th-12th lesson

7th+10th lesson with younger pupils

The teacher and the pupils continue to cooperate. The teacher could possibly participate in groups, that have problems.

The objective is to construct a robot, that can use a sensor in Fable Spin to detect whether an obstacle is graphite, that needs to be removed, or just an obstacle that the robot must drive around or over.

One solution could be, to say that one specific colour LEGO-bricks represents the graphite, and all other colors are just normal debris.

Try several times, and see if you can improve your programmes.

You can expand you programme to use more than one sensor, so that the robot both uses for instance the colour sensor and the proximity sensor and you could also imagine the robot, reacting to sound. Remember that you are able to add more “else if” in the “if” block:

You could also connect a smartphone to your robot and use Fable Face. From the app, you can access some of the sensors, which are in the phone. Try for instance to use the accelerometer. Experience which sensors is available and try to use one (or more) of them

When you’re done with the lesson plan the programming of your disaster robots, you could demonstrate your solutions to the other classes or at a parent night. Furthermore you must present your thoughts on how you would solve the challenges, as well as how you think a disaster robot should be constructed, which features it should have etc. Try to see how this fits in with the UN Global Goals!

2 lesson plans for 8th-9th grade and 4th-7th grade respectively.

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