ROAMER & SPECIAL NEEDS
This article is by Mike Blamires of Canterbury Christ Church College. He looks at the historical perspective behind the use of Roamer.
Robots have been used successfully to enhance the learning of children with a range of educational needs. The main device used for this work has been the Turtle which is usually controlled from a computer via an infra-red link. Because of this, the Turtle was in turn able to be controlled from any device that was capable of being connected to the computer. The dependency on keyboard skills could be circumvented. This has meant that developmentally young children could control the Turtle by pressing symbols for movement and turn placed upon an overlay keyboard. Alternatively, a learner with a physical difficulty might also control the Turtle using one or more switches. Some children have been encouraged to develop vocalisation and language through the use of a sound switch which made the Turtle move when they talked. The Turtle is an exciting alternative to the screen which has the additional flexibility of a wide range of input devices.
Despite its obvious advantages the Turtle is also limited. There was evolutionary scope for a more flexible and intelligent creature that was not dependent upon a desk top computer and which could explore more freely. The Roamer is that creature. It is mainly controlled by the keyboard on its back so that the range of children who can make use of it may be limited. However, when a control box is added to it, it can respond to a switch press. The control box can also be used to switch on motors, beepers, lights etc. so that it can produce a variety of interesting responses. In addition the Roamer can wear a variety of jackets which can be decorated to produce characters or machines. It has educational potential that should be tapped.
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