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A leg up for Logo robotics.

A leg up for Logo robotics

Children in many elementary schools are already familiar with the computer programming language Logo. Using simple sets of commands, a child can instruct the computer to create and manipulate images on a display screen. Now researchers Stephen Ocko and Mitchel Resnick of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Laboratory have developed an extended version of Logo, which children can use to program a computer to operate machines they have built themselves.

"Kids don't get enough chances in the classroom to be inventors," Resnick says. The combination of the new version of Logo with LEGO building pieces (including motors, gears, wheels and sensors) provides a novel outlet for this creativity. Children can build model cars, elevators, toasters and other mechanical contraptions; then, using computer commands such as ON (turn on the motor) and RD (reverse the motor's direction), they can control their machines.

To make the system work, Ocko and Resnick developed an interface box for connecting LEGO machines to an Apple IIe computer, a special circuit board that fits into the computer itself, and the necessary software. After extensive classroom testing, the initial LEGO/Logo package has just become available commercially. Resnick demonstrated the system at a recent Human Factors in Computing Systems conference.

By teaching engineering design principles, the system moves the curriculum into areas not usually covered in schools , says Resnick. Ocko and Resnick are now studying ways of improving and expanding the system. One possibility is the addition of magnetic and other types of sensors to the optical and touch sensors already available so high school students could build their own instruments for laboratory experiments.

The researchers also are looking into ways of modifying Logo further so a single computer can operate several machines at the same time. Another way of operating a fleet of robots is to use "program bricks," which could be programmed by being temporarily connected to a keyboard and display screen, then disconnected and plugged directly into a machine.

"We're trying lots of different things," says Resnick. "Both of us regret we didn't have things like this when we were growing up. It's a chance for us to be kids again."
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Title Annotation:children's computer program allows them to operate machines they have built themselves
Publication:Science News
Date:Jun 4, 1988
Words:364
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