By: John Rollins
Technical communication is all around us. We see them in policies and procedures at work, TV dinner instructions at home; even in children’s toys where often complex concepts are presented in a simple “Kid-Friendly” format. One particular example is Lego Mindstorms (programmable Lego robots) and ROBOLAB (available Mindstorms software.) The software ROBOLAB formed from industry collaboration and is modeled after the LabVIEW Graphical Programming Interface – an industry standard. Moreover, ROBOLAB is integrated into the K-12 educational curriculum, as students can learn robotics concepts perfectly matched to their grade level. The software consists of three main difficulty levels: The Pilot, the Inventor, and the Investigator. Each level has its own specially designed user approach.
There is a context sensitive help that follows the mouse cursor. You’re alerted of any errors (a broken line graphic) when you click the run button. This layout allows a young beginning user to develop programming skills in a way that is both efficient and fun.
The screen is resizable and follows a standard windows layout for menus, icons and keyboard commands. It’s also highly customizable for shape, font’s and colors (see picture.)
This highly flexible and customizable user interface is well designed to support an intermediate user.
A typical scenario might be creating a data collection program in Inventor, downloading it to the Lego robot, gathering and storing data, uploading that data back to the PC, documenting findings in a built in journal, adding a chart, and presenting findings in an onscreen presentation. Inventor arranges documents in categories (themes), and the layout consists of a work area on the right and a navigation dial (see picture) on the left.
Each of the five navigation features changes the work area layout accordingly. Program, upload, view and compare, compute, and journal tools are available to users. The program tool utilizes five templates of varying difficulties (1-3 Pilot, 4-5 Inventor level, see picture).
View and Compare
This investigative programming design is well suited to the expert ROBOLAB user and greatly aides in communicating the programming concept.
As we have seen, highly abstract programming concepts can be simplified and presented to users of all ages, though templates and graphical programming. These communication forms present themselves in ROBOLAB to help students program and run Lego Robots, through a series of templates, icons, and tools. Through these forms, the user is empowered to explore, analyze and comprehend both his surroundings and his world.
Pilot Programming Style
Inventor Programming Style
Programming in inventor
Investigator Programming Style
Investigator programming http://www.lego.com/eng/education/mindstorms/home.asp?pagename=investipro
LabVIEW’s ROBOLAB page
Download ROBOLAB demo