SBIR Phase I: Learning Design Synthesis with a Mechatronics Kit
National Science Foundation
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Small Business Information
Modular Robotics Incorporated
5923 Kentucky Ave., Pittsburgh, PA, 15232-2823
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged:
AbstractThis Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project will develop and test a construction kit toy and accompanying activities for teaching and learning engineering design synthesis. Routine engineering analysis can be automated, but design synthesis still remains largely the province of creative and knowledgeable human beings. The problem is that design synthesis is taught poorly, if at all. Construction kit toys offer a way to solve this problem: they invite young people into engineering design synthesis in playful yet intellectually challenging ways. Beyond teaching specific domain knowledge, construction kits engage young learners in goal-directed experimental exploration, acquiring and practicing skills central to creativity and invention in engineering design. Current mechatronics construction kit toys are either too simple or limited to allow serious designing, or they are powerful but so technically demanding as to exclude many who otherwise might like to play. The specific innovation of our EYVO construction kit for mechatronics through elegant encapsulation of function and simplicity of physical design?will dramatically lower barriers for young people to engage significantly with engineering design synthesis. This project will develop the EYVO prototype and accompanying educational materials, test it with children, and investigate its commercial potential. The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is as follows. Throughout the twentieth century the US led the world in science and technology innovation, but this competitive advantage is steadily eroding. US children lag behind peer nations in STEM knowledge and skills, crucial for the nation?s technological leadership and economic future. Many young people are discouraged from pursuing STEM interests because, despite interest, early encounters lead them to believe that they have poor aptitude. They turn away (or feel excluded) from STEM fields because the barriers to entry seem too high or because they think it?s boring or difficult. Unlike competing products such as LEGO Mindstorms, VEX Robotics, and Meccano the EYVO construction kit developed in this project invites young people to engage immediately?without prologue and without need for prior technical proficiency?in serious yet playful engineering design. Through play with EYVO they can learn that engineering design is fun, and more importantly, a domain in which they can excel. By making the kit affordable to individuals, schools, and informal science institutions, the project will make engineering design synthesis skills attractive and accessible to populations that historically have largely been excluded from, or disinterested in, STEM learning.
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