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Brownie Robotics Badge 2: Designing Robots

The second robotics badge deepens the understanding of how robots work and introduces the girls to the Engineering Design Process. The badge starts with learning about biomimicry. So, biomimicry is when a machine, a robot in this case, mimics the actions of a living thing (human, plant, insect, animal, etc). Bio means life, mimicry means imitate. So, innovation inspired by nature. Da Vinci even stated “Those who are inspired by a model other than Nature, a mistress above all masters, are laboring in vain.”

Here are some examples you can share with your girls.

The badge booklet suggests designing a robot inspired by a bumblebee. So, why a bumblebee? Bumblebees are engineers! Bumbleebees are all weather foragers. Wind and rain, from all directions do not stop the bumblebee from seeking out pollen and nectar. A Harvard University study using a wind tunnel, bumblebees were observed to adjust their speed and direction based on the variable speed and direction of the wind. So why is this important? Understanding how they accommodate for highly variable wind speed and direction is extremely beneficial for design of micro air vehicles that fly in adverse weather conditions. Biomimicry is also being used by NASA to engineer environments for space.

"Velcro® was invented after a man took a very close look at those little prickly seeds that stick to your clothing when you walk though a field. Water filters are designed like animal cell membranes that let certain things pass through while others are kept out. Also, though planes do not flap their wings like birds, their shapes and the principles of keeping a plane in flight are the same as bird wings. People have also created adhesives that mimic the fascinating and sticky surface of gecko or lizard's five-toed feet." (, 2004)

So, before I go off on biomimicry, which I am seeing needs to be its own post in itself, here is a quick two activities that the girls could complete to fulfill this badge step.

  1. Print out these flashcards, cut lengthwise across the middle. Fold the card and laminate so that you have an image on the front and back. Laminate the cards.

  2. As a group, show the girls the engineered product and have them guess if it was designed through biomimicry or not. If they think it was, what do they think inspired the design.

Once girls get an idea of items that have been inspired by nature. They can brainstorm some designs for a robot that is inspired by nature.

Step 2 is about learning about the parts of a robot and how robots uses sensors like we use our five senses to understand the world around us. We've already explored using our senses in Badge 1, so the focus should be on robotic sensors.

Chek out this video of NASA's Robonaut using it's robotic arm.

Then girls can create their own "robotic" arm using this great lesson plan and instructions from NASA

The final three badge steps are using the Engineering Design Process again. Girls should take what they have learned about sensors and biomimicry and design a robot that solves a problem for other people or animals. Personally, I would purchase a bunch of composition notebooks for the girls during a Back to School sale for the girls to use as Engineering Notebooks for their designs and redesigns. If you can't purchase some notebooks, just staple some graph paper together to create a booklet for them.

I would have girls work on their designs on their own and then gather during your meeting to share and get feedback on their designs. Girls can share their ideas, partner up to offer feedback and then they can individually resign their robots in their notebooks. Girls should think about different sensors their robot might need.The simplest way to accomplish the prototype step would be a share of their notebooks, but you could take it a step further and have the girls design parts of their robot similiar to how they built the robotic arm out of straws, string and cardboard.

Finally, girls will need to think about the program for their robot. So build on what they learned in Badge 1 with algorithms and computer programming and have them create a program for the problem they are solving.

Good Luck and Happy Engineering.

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