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Building on Making Learning Irresistible -in D&T

On Friday I was given the opportunity to run a workshop for the North Somerset Learning Exchange… A primary school conference called Building on Making Learning Irresistible. My workshop was primarily to look at the implications of the new national curriculum for Design and Technology.

The first part of the workshop involved a presentation and discussion “unpicking” the key parts of the document and looking at how schools might change the activities they do with their children in the context of their school.

The second part was “hands on” with some of the newer technologies, 3D Printing, Robotics and programming, and CAD/CAM.

The conference happened to be taking place on the BBC “Children in Need” day. So the mascot Pudsey Bear inevitably made a few appearances.


Before finishing this post I must thank a few people for helping out with the organisation, loan of equipment and inspiration for the workshop…. Clevedon School Learning Hub, North Somerset Learning Exchange and Teach Design for all the organisation and admin. 3D Systems for providing the Cube 3D printer, Roland DG for providing the vinyl cutters, VEX Robotics for the loan of the VEX IQ Clawbot.



VEX Clawbot #3Dprinting Carbomorph touch sensors

In a previous post I mentioned that our VEX robotics group at school had made a simple mistake, they started to build a VEX Clawbot without checking in the box of goodies… They didn't actually have a claw to mount on it. This meant that they investigated making their own by 3D printing using our Bits from Bytes machine.

This has been pretty successful and they are in the final stages of assembling and testing. However at the same time Dr Simon Leigh from the University of Warwick visited our school to show the students a new material called “Carbomorph” (an electrically conductive polymer). This started some discussion amongst the group, wondering if Carbomorph could be used to provide feedback for the claw by using it for touch sensors.

It's an interesting thought and something that needs to be investigated later… How can this interface with the Cortex controller? will Carbomorph be sensitive enough? How can the feedback be coded using the software? Etc.

So to get things started I helped the students out with their design for a modified claw (the finger part) that incorporates a Carbomorph gripping surface (the touch pad) and built in Carbomorph “wiring”. This can be seen in the photographs … Sorry that it isn't very clear but we had black translucent PLA loaded in the printer and the black Carbomorph doesn't show up too well.

This does raise more questions and design/engineering opportunities and the group should really focus on getting the robot finished before taking on more challenges…. So it will be interesting to see how this develops.


Poo, dead flies, rat whiskers, broken bones and creepy faces


It is a bit of a strange combination but the list of nasty stuff in the title are just some of the things that I came across at the new Bristol Robotics Lab (BRL) run by Bristol University and the University of the West of England.
So where does this list of nasties fit in? Well, they are all involved in the research they are doing there. The poo and dead flies are used to generate electricity to drive an Eco robot, the rat whiskers are sensors that can “feel” shapes and textures of objects, the broken bones were in a surgical “robot” that manipulates the bones to be repaired and the creepy face was able to move with realistic expressions…. And that was not all! … Helicopters, quad copters, 3D optical sensors, air muscles, etc, etc.
Getting my head around all of this has been pretty mind blowing and I must thank Dr Martin Pearson from BRL for showing me around and Iain from 3D Systems (Bits from Bytes) for inviting me to accompany him on the visit.
But where does this all fit in with 3D printing? … As the robots are experimental research machines they usually involve mechanical parts that are unique and are therefore produced by RP or 3D Prints. (I spotted a RapMan on one of the students workstations!) And here is where it all links to what we are doing at my school… Our VEX robotics group have 3D printed a claw for their robot (see some of the previous posts on this blog). I’m pretty certain they will be green with envy about my visit when they see my photos! I expect I’ll have to see if one of the guys from BRL can visit us when we meet after school.

VEX claw


In an earlier post you may have seen that our VEX robotics group at my school made a bit of a mistake by starting to build a robot when we didn’t have all the parts… Oops!

So we 3D printed some parts instead using our Bits from Bytes machines.

Here is a picture of the first trial… Just to see if the parts fit together. A bit more “tuning” to make sure they move properly is needed, as the bolts are a bit oversize, before we try it out with a motor.

VEX robotics and 3D printing … And new goodies!


At my school I have a group of year 9 students building a VEX robot… An extra curricular after school club.

In a fit of madness we decided to not build the standard “protobot” and do a hybrid “clawbot/protobot”. All very well but part way into the build someone noticed that we don’t have the claw in our kit… Beginners mistake!

So, being a bit brave about it I said to the students that I would search the web and see if I can download the 3D CAD files so that we could print the necessary files…. And I found them!

Talk about a steep learning curve… I fired up Autodesk Inventor (I usually use Creo!) opened the .step file and exported the parts as .stl (then discovered that I could have used Creo anyway!…. Dohh)

So now they were printable files. Most of them are a bit challenging as they need support material, but with Axon 3 (alpha) the support generation looks to be superb, so I was up for the challenge…. And the photos show the results.

Having so much fun I printed most of the parts… I’ll have to leave a few for the students to do in school. I don’t think the PLA plates will be strong enough, maybe a bit of a redesign for these, but that’s an extra project for the students to do 🙂

There can’t be many clawbots out there with printed claws, maybe this is a first … If it works! I’ll post some more photos later (if we are successful of course).

Oh, nearly forgot about the new goodies mentioned in the title of this post…. I have just received (and fitted) a new bed and waste bin (commonly known at BfB as a snot box) and a new wiper (snot flicker?) to my 3D Touch…. Wonderful!…. I’ll post some more info about these later.

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