Automation Solutions

Technologies Education

Any teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be!

Arthur. C. Clarke

Much of the success of digital technologies has been in the ability to automate processes and complete tasks that human being once had to do. While robots are what most people think of, they are only tiny fraction of automated solutions.

Automation Solutions


Attend the lecture to explore the concepts for this week.

Automation Solutions


Lecture Notes

Read further about the concepts explored this week.



We have various ways of giving instructions and data to digital devices - keyboards and mice, touchscreen, microphones, GPS signals, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but there are many other sensors and peripherals available to allow digital devices to interact with the world.

Makey Makey interface boards provides a simple interface where young students can develop practice at creating various input devices for a computer, and the CodeBug microcomputer provides a more complex device, that can take inputs in the same way as a Makey Makey, but can also be programmed to respond to inputs and generate outputs.

There are a wide range of low cost microcontroller boards available - the most common by far is the Arduino range of boards - these are small circuit boards that can have sensors attached, and be programmed to respond in different ways.

An Arduino board can be sourced for less than $5 and kits of 37 different sensors for less than $20.

Sensors then provide options for students to include in their solutions to problems.

· Vibration

· Light

· Tilt

· Infrared

· Temperature

· Humidity

· Heartbeat

· Magnetic field

· Ultrasonic distance

· Flame

· And dozens more

Arduino circuit boards can be greatly expanded through the use of plug on expansion boards:

· Motor control

· Datalogging

· Wi-Fi communication

· Cell Phone and

· Satellite communications


· Music Player

· LCD panels to display information, and

· Cameras

Circuit boards while simple, can involve soldering to ensure expansion boards connect well, but the low cost of such devices and the learning that can be achieved by students undertaking the use of such kits can outweigh the convenience of educational kits that provide easily attachable and detachable connections, but at a greatly increased price. It is a trade-off between convenience and price.

Kits such as Circuit Scribe and LittleBits can be even easier to use, with magnetic and conductive ink connections, but they lack the capacity to incorporate programming or data communication at this stage, with LittleBits communication kits only available for US power supplies.

Single board Microcomputers - such as RaspberryPi and the BBC:MicroBit (provided to every 7th grader in the UK), are a step up from Arduino boards, with the ability to run simple operating systems, so while the same types of sensors and expansion boards are available, they have the advantage of being able to setup as computers and run software and programming languages that can then automate activities, rather than have a specific set of instructions installed as with the Arduino boards. They can be connected to a TV set or computer monitor, can attach keyboards and mice, and run software applications such as word processors and spreadsheets, games such as Minecraft, and web browsers if connected wirelessly to the internet, and even servers to host websites and share files. They do cost more than the Arduino boards - you can get an Arduino for less than $5, microcomputers are generally $30-$60 but the cost is dropping each year, and the ability for student to have their own computer on which to experiment and learn is invaluable.

The final step up from single board microcomputers is a range of build your own computers and tablet kits, which students disassemble and reassemble to learn how the system of components in the digital system works. These are essentially microcomputer boards with attached peripherals and cases, the most notable being the Kano, Pi-Top and 56 ‘One’ kits.



Algorithmic processes are made up of well-defined steps which can be easily automated - car doors to open when receiving a remote signal, lights to turn on when we enter a room, sprinklers to water the garden at set times, music to mute when we have a phone call, air conditioner to keep a set temperature, our car to warn us if a seatbelt is not fastened, and thousands of others.

More complex algorithmic automations are found in industry - robot assembly lines, milking machines, mining machines, shearing machines, medical monitors, aircraft autopilots, and while many automated systems still include human elements, this is changing, and the trend is that if it can be automated by a computer system, it will be.

Every industry and workplace - including teaching, faces automation, and Digital Technologies is part of preparing students for this environment - to understand it and to be able to create solutions within such environments rather than be subject to circumstances beyond their control, because they do not understand them.

An area of automation attracting a lot of attention at the moment is home automation - taking any and every device in the home, linking them together, and automating these devices. Services such as IFThenThenThat (IFTTT) enable devices to be monitored and controlled over the internet, with devices triggering actions such as sending email alerts, turning on or adjusting devices, etc.

Home automation hubs such as Amazon’s Echo, Belkan’s WeMo, Google’s Nest, and dozens of other, provide easy ways to connect various sensors to controllable power points, lightbulbs, thermostats, webcams, weather stations, etc.

There are hundreds of devices that can be connected in this way, and it is very easy to connect Arduino and RaspberryPi devices by attaching an internet or WiFi shield, and use the wide range of sensors available to these devices to trigger events, use services such as IFTTT to cause further actions to occur from such triggers, whatever may be necessary to solve student problems.


Robot Arms

Robotic arms are one of the original algorithmic automation tools, initially used to replace workers doing extremely repetitive work on automotive assembly lines, but have become more sophisticated and used for most potentially hazardous activities in industry, welding, riveting, moving heavy objects - and increasingly used when precision and reliability are required, such as in creating microchips.

Students should not just see robot arms as they would traditional human arms - robot arms are any automated system that is fixed in one place, or placed on a mobile robot.

Robot arms are defined by the number of joints allowing either rotational motion (such as in an articulated robot) or translational (linear) displacement such as in a 2D plotter or 3D printer. Articulated arms have a number of joints, each of which is controlled by an actuator - a motor that can be precisely rotated to specific points, and are usually described by the degrees of freedom these joints provide.

An advantage of this Makeblock system is that students can learn to do more than just learn how to use robot arms as ICTs, they can redesign and build their own robot arms, plotters and 3d printers, and come up with entirely new solutions.

Robot arms usually have attachments on their ‘hands’ to perform different tasks - grippers, suction cups, laser cutters, pens, screwdrivers, etc. and likewise, displacement arms can have pens, cutters, lasers, and a range of other tools and implements. We see this most commonly for 3d printers, where tradition plastic extrusion can be replaced with icing to decorate cakes, or pizza toppings, and by understanding how the technology works, and how the software to control it can be modified, students can develop entirely new solutions to problems that require the accurate positioning and application of tools.

Robot Arms

Mobile Robots

Mobile robots work differently to robot arms, designed to move about away from a fixed location - these were initially guided by a human operator by remote control, but are now more commonly designed to move about autonomously, following programmed instructions, and reacting to their environment through sensors - touch sensors, heat or infrared sensors, light sensors, sound sensors, ultrasonic distance sensors, digital compasses, GPS, and cameras.

There are a huge range of robots available now for education:

For F-2 Beebots that are programmed from keys on their back, and Bluebots - which can be programmed from computers or tablets. Probots are a little more complex, with an LCD screen to display commands, and it can be used to teach the basics of repeats, but the touch, light and sound sensors can only trigger events, with no branching commands. It is however a great turtle device, with an attached pen on butchers’ paper, it can be used to create engaging repeating patterns and artworks.

Oz-bots are very small robots, that can detect the colour of lines below them and follow these, even lines displayed on tablets, and programming these to perform dance moves and other activities can be fun, but they have limited problem solving capabilities.

Dash and Dot robots are very robust and interactive, with a range of attachments such as a xylophone and catapult.

Sphero robots, including the BB8, can be programmed using various software tools, but their accuracy makes their use beyond F-2 problematic, the challenge for these simple robots, is in contributing to the solution of problems - moving away from learning how to use the robots as ICTs, and towards creating solutions to problems with the robots.

With students in F-2 having only learnt sequence, the solutions to problems will tend to be where a robot makes its way from one location to another - delivering a message, carrying an object, leading a lost child, etc. with the degree of difficulty being the degree of abstraction students can develop in their solutions - carry different objects, follow different paths, draw different patterns or shapes.

Lego WeDo kits allow students to be more creative and construct their own robots, but as kits they also open up a wide range of automation solutions that students can create - warning systems, communication tools, transportation solutions, animatronic performances, toys, games, musical instruments, etc.

Another key aspect in F-2 is for students to be able to describe their robot as a digital system - something that has inputs (buttons, sensors), a processor (computer brain), and outputs (moving wheels, flashing lights, making sounds) that they can control and make do what they wish through instructions.

Use of instruction cards that students can layout in sequence, can assist students in recognising how these symbols are data, and can mean words to us, but also digital instructions to robots.

From 3-6 there is a range of more complex robots, able to make decisions based on inputs, and perform more repeated tasks.

Edison robots, Lego Mindstorms, Vex, Makerbots and Arduino Robotic Kits are just five from hundreds, but represent the main types, and an increasing level of complexity and flexibility.

Edison kits are self-contained, with inbuilt sensors, wheels, etc. and students create programs and load them onto their robot to see how it performs the instructions. They are a little better than some premade robots in that they have connection point for Lego, so students can construct some other uses, but not a lot.

Lego Mindstorm kits used to be very flexible, with students able to design and build all sorts of robots and automation solutions around a yellow brick like computer, and a very intuitive programming language based on the LabView visual programming language which NASA uses for their robots. Recent releases have tended towards the commercial home market - with students building a small range of set models by following very complex and detailed instructions, but it is still possible for students to use Mindstorms to come up with their own creative solutions.

Similar to Lego, VEX kits are very popular in the USA, with different levels from plastic to metal, and based on a meccano style of construction provide a lot of flexibility in design.

Makerbots have a similar style metal robot kits, but include the ability to transform these kits into robot arms, plotters, musical instruments, even 3d printers, providing students with a set of tools from which they can develop some very sophisticated solutions to problems.

Makerbots are built around Arduino microcontrollers, but without the need to solder any connections. It is possible to purchase extremely low cost robotics kits however which students would need to make themselves - a great design and technology activity, and most are based on Arduino’s, but kits exist for most low cost microcomputers as well, essentially you attach some motors, wheels and a sensor or two to any Arduino or single board microcomputer, and you have a robot kit, and this can be done for less than $25

From 7-10 students will generally be extending their focus to the automation of algorithms and data collection through their robotic solutions - with emphasis on the coded software rather than the physical device - identifying and removing weeds in a garden using an image detection algorithm, detecting balls and moving them towards a goal as in done in the Robocup competitions, or finding their way through a complex building to rescue a trapped survivor, the emphasis being much more on the algorithm developed to avoid obstacles and identify the victim, rather than on how the robot is constructed or the capabilities of the robotic device.

Students should also develop capacity in designing the user experience with robotic devices - what would it be like to be served by a robot waiter, creating robotic devices to assist people with disability, programming their devices and testing it with clients.

Mobile Robots


Drones have become very cheap and popular, and represent opportunities for students to explore a wide range of problem solutions with a new technology - from pizza delivery to surveillance, personal cinematography to the global war on terror.

Essentially drones, or UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), were initially remote controlled planes and helicopters, but increasingly they have been automated so that they can avoid obstacles, follow paths, or find their own paths to location, without the need for a human controller.

While many micro drones are still just remote controlled devices, and of not much interest to Digital Technologies, there are small drones which can be programmed using drag and drop programming - to take off, and move about, just as can be done with mobile robots.

Students can develop solutions to problems that use drones - film recording (providing great cinematic shots), surveillance (playground duty), search and rescue (looking for lost people), inspections - detecting lost balls on roofs, deliveries (some drones now have claws), and education - understanding flight, geographic views of the local neighbourhood, privacy, and many others uses, but many solutions will focus on the data drones can collect, and how this data collection can be automated with regards to flight plans and obstacle avoidance.

Larger drones have more powerful computers that can process data from their cameras and other sensors such as altimeters, compasses and GPS to make more autonomous decisions.

More specifically in digital technologies, Drones can be used to teach sequence and iteration in flight planning, selection in how the drone reacts on loss of signal - stopping or returning to where it started from, artificial intelligence in obstacle detection and avoidance and path following, and are nicely self-contained digital systems to explore, particularly with their communication processes.

The use of drones, even the smallest, is subject to rules set down by the Civil Aviation Authority, and while these rules are commonly broken by the tens of thousands of drone owners, teachers do need to be more cautious in their use.

Essentially, if you fly them indoors you are fine, other than standard risk management for devices hurtling about with spinning plastic blades. Taking them outside however brings a new set of rules, the most important being that the drone cannot be flown with 30m of other people, which generally limits their use to large sport fields when not in use by others, and supervising a class, where student drone operators are 30m from you and each other presents some challenge. There is provision for use that is 10m horizontal and 10m vertical from others, and some careful arrangement on an oval might be possible, but nevertheless, large groups of students and drones being used outside would be very difficult to comply with CASA regulations for minimum distance.


Lecture Synthesis

Complete a summary and synthesis of what you have learnt in the lecture and course notes this week by the next lecture. It counts 1% towards your Log of Learning Activities.


Automation Solutions Quiz

Complete the quiz before the next lecture. It counts 1% towards your Log of Learning Activities.



Attend the tutorial to further explore the concepts presented this week and practice teaching them.


Provide Feedback on Lesson Plans

In tutorial small groups you will provide feedback on the lesson plans shared this week.

Submit a brief summary of the feedback you received and provided during the tutorial by the next tutorial. You can use dot points. It counts 0.5% towards your Log of Learning Activities.

Peer Feedback

Digital Technologies Activity


Adafruit Circuit Playground Express

MakeCode (AppLab go to Toolkit)


Micro:Bit (Activities)

Makecode Lego Mindstorms

Makecode Mindstorms

Design and Technologies Activity

Robot Arm

In tutorial this week we are going to design and build a robot arm solution to move a softdrink can.

Google K-4 Workshop

This Saturday afternoon will be a free four hour workshop held for teachers on the use of robotics to teach Digital Technologies in K-4. If you wish to attend, please register.

PD Workshops

Tutorial Reflection

After the tutorial, you should complete a reflection on what you learnt in this weeks tutorial by the next tutorial. It counts 1% towards your Log of Learning Activities.


Preparation for Week 8

Create two lessons plans, one for Design & Technologies and one for Digital Technologies. You will share these in tutorial next week and conduct simulated teaching of your lessons. Together, these count 1% to your Log of Learning Activities if submitted before the start of next weeks tutorial.

Lesson Plans

Week 8 Design and Technologies Lesson Plan

In tutorial small groups you will share the Design and Technologies lesson plan you have developed for next week.

Submit your Design and Technologies lesson plan developed for the Week 8 tutorial by the start of next weeks tutorial. It counts 0.5% towards your Log of Learning Activities.

Share Lesson Plans

Week 8 Digital Technologies Lesson Plan

In tutorial small groups you will share the Digital Technologies lesson plan you have developed for next week.

Submit your Digital Technologies lesson plan developed for the Week 8 tutorial by the start of next weeks tutorial. It counts 0.5% towards your Log of Learning Activities.

Share Lesson Plans

Progressive Feedback

Your views on how the course is going is appreciated.

Progressive Feedback