ROBOTIC EDUCATION IN THE DLR_SCHOOL_LAB RWTH AACHEN

A rising number of robotic systems are finding their way into our daily life. If the current trend continues the robotic sector will employ as many people in 2020 as the IT sector did in 2005 . Thus, the demand for robotic engineers is steadily increasing. Robotics can be seen as the focal point which combines aspects of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering as well as computer science. In this sense, robotics as an inter-disciplinary field of science poses high demands on the competencies of Robotic Engineers. Some Universities offer special programs that offer a holistic curriculum for robotics. Besides these special programs the most common career path for Robotic Engineers is to approach the field of robotics from one of the classic fields - mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science. Hence, the possible curriculum vitaes of robotic engineers are manifold. In this context, the DLR_School_Lab RWTH Aachen aims to give interested students insights into the interconnected scientific fields and to show up possible paths for their career as a robotic engineer.

The DLR_School_Lab RWTH Aachen is an extra-curricular science laboratory (‘school lab’) at RWTH Aachen University. It was founded in 2013 by the RWTH Aachen University and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) which is one of Europe's largest and most modern research institutions. The DLR_School_Lab RWTH Aachen offers high-tech experiments to secondary school students with focus on the core research fields within robotics. Within hands-on experiments, the students experience the fascination of robotic research and research methodologies in high-tech research. The hands-on experiments deal with questions from the fields of Aeronautics, Space, Energy and Transport research – with the focus on robotics and artificial intelligence: examples for experiments involve the development of an artificial intelligence for the regulation of a renewable energy supply for the “city of the future” or the analysis of a quadrocopters flight characteristics and means to control it. Lateral dynamics of an automobile are controlled in a driving simulator. Two six-axis industrial robots are programmed. The humanoid robot NAO is taught how to walk and dance. Complex navigation tasks of the Mars Rovers are investigated and experienced in a virtual "Walk on Mars" on our own version of Star Trek’s “Holodeck”.

In this paper we present the didactic concept of the DLR_School_Lab RWTH Aachen University. Its key-success factor is the autonomous and self-responsible handling of state-of-the-art technology (e.g. humanoid robots, quadrocopters, driving simulators, industrial robots) by the attendees which is not available at school. The students experience technology in hands-on experiments and get insight in various fields of robotic research. In a typical one-day visit a student performs four of the experiments according to her/his personal scientific interest. The didactic concept uses a highly cross-linked teaching and research approach. The motivation and theoretical foundations of the experiments are presented in short teaching sessions by scientists and university students. In a following self-responsible research phase, the students analyze the stated problems and derive possible solutions by experimenting with the hardware. Finally the developed solutions are presented by the students and are discussed.