About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN16 Proceedings
Publication year: 2016
Pages: 704-712
ISBN: 978-84-608-8860-4
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2016.1137
Conference name: 8th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 4-6 July, 2016
Location: Barcelona, Spain
In this paper an analysis of MicroFactory is carried out and the potential for generating a diversified set of didactic experiences based on it is evaluated.

MicroFactory is a robotic competition based on a previously existing competition called Robot@Factory. Robot@Factory is a Portuguese robotic competition whose first edition was held in 2011 in Lisbon. The scenario of the competition simulates a factory which has two warehouses, and 8 processing machines. The flow of the materials inside the factory starts at the Incoming Warehouse and ends at the Outgoing Warehouse, eventually passing through one or more processing machines. The robots must collect, transport and position the materials along the process, having to self-localize and navigate while avoiding collisions with walls, obstacles and other robots. There is the option of following predefined tracks present on the floor to ease the navigation problem.

Robot@Factory poses challenges like dynamic task scheduling, robot cooperation, trajectory planning, robot navigation with obstacle avoidance, robot self-localization and materials identification and manipulation. Related research contributes to improve AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicle systems) technology. Presently this competition is integrated in Festival Nacional de Robótica, a yearly event which attracts lots of public, contributing also to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) popularization.

MicroFactory was conceived to be low-cost and easily implementable in a small space, be it a classroom or the school robotics club. The ground area of the factory scenario was reduced to approximately one ninth of its original value. The scenario materials were simplified – the floor is now an A0 printed sheet and the warehouses and machines dimensions are so that they can be 3D printed or made out of LEGOTM bricks; both machines and parts had active elements with LEDs and now they are passive. Besides the competition scenario it was also conceived an official robot for the competition. It’s a 3D printed robot, based on Arduino and cheap common electronic parts.

The creation of this competition is part of a wider Open Source project, aiming to develop project-based collaborative didactic experiences involving robotics and low-cost 3D printed educational robots based on generic electronics to support those experiences. Currently efforts are being dedicated to the inclusion of more sensors in the competition robot, namely low-cost distance sensors and a weight sensor at the claws, the inclusion of different kinds of motors, the development of a new version of the robot incorporating a Raspberry Pi board, the development of a very precise robot localization system, and the conception of a diversified set of didactic experiences based on the MicroFactory competition.

This article presents an analysis of MicroFactory and of its inherent challenges. Through this analysis it will be possible to identify topics that can be taught and learned while developing robots to participate in the competition, and to collect elements that will be very useful in the planning and implementation of didactic experiences that work those topics.
Education, Problem-based Learning, Educational Robotics, Robotic Competitions, Open Source, STEM.