LEGO is not just for Christmas

While lots of children will be looking forward to receiving LEGO from Santa this year, undergraduates studying Computer Science in Coventry University’s Faculty of Engineering and Computing realise that Lego is not just a toy, but an excellent learning tool.

LEGO Robots on race circuit

LEGO Robots on race circuit

Computer science is a crucial part of technology, industry and commerce and underpins every aspect of our personal life. The BSc (Hons) degree course allows students to develop the expertise necessary to work in IT, not just learning the theory, but putting it into practice – sometimes with fun results.

Coventry University Principal Lecturer in Computer Science, Michael Odetayo, said: “The first year undergraduates study the fundamentals of computer science, working on intensive sets of exercises and activities designed to help them develop software and hardware, so sometimes it’s good to inject a bit of humour into the practical applications of their studies.

LEGO Robot facehair“This year we piloted an Activity Led Learning (ALL) programme in which we got students to work with LEGO MINDSTORMS. These are special kits which allow you to build and programme your very own intelligent LEGO robot. The robots can be fitted with sensors which control motors and react to stimuli including light, colour, sound, motion and touch. The robot is controlled by an NXT intelligent micro-computer LEGO brick that can be programmed to take inputs from sensors and activate the servo motors – meaning the robot reacts to its environment. So at the end of the programme we decided to hold a bit of a gladiatorial challenge to find a supreme robot champion!”

The ‘Robot Tournament’ consisted of two competitive rounds. The first activity was based on a Grand Prix racetrack, with robots racing an opponent over two laps of the circuit. The second activity saw robots trying to navigate a hostile alien land, hunting for food by knocking different coloured balls off posts with differently coloured bases whilst avoiding quick sand and dinosaur attacks.

LEGO Robot attacks dinoMichael Odetayo said: “The ‘racing’ activity involved mimicking visual processing using light sensors to detect the black race circuit outline. In the second exercise the robots had to negotiate an obstacle course in a ‘lost world’, with sensors having to detect different coloured objects to win food points and avoid danger zones. Activities like this allow students to consolidate their learning using a practical example of programming – and have some fun, which is what learning should be.”