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A team of educators uses the Soft Robotics Toolkit for the first time.

In a previous article, we covered how a team from Harvard Biodesign Lab has been working on the Soft Robotics Toolkit to inspire young students to pursue STEM careers as part of the Mittal Institute’s Social Entrepreneurship in India program.

The Toolkit team develops low-cost Toolkits that can be used in underserved classrooms in India, their ultimate goal to educate students in cutting-edge soft robotics research through hands-on, cognitive learning. After years of development in the US, the team took its first step in India this week and conducted its first workshop in Delhi with a group of educators and students.  

Setting Out

After multiple rounds of development and iterations in the US, the aim was to test the developed kit in a new setting, with the objective to learn the answers to the following:

  • Are educators and students in India excited to work with soft robotics?
  • Do they find it novel and useful?
  • How do educators envision incorporating these toolkits into classrooms?
  • What more can be done to increase the value of the kits, especially in the Indian context?

Learning About Soft Robotics

The first stop was a hands-on workshop with 11 educators and senior-year students from Shiv Nadar School, Noida and Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya, Dwarka, the purpose to learn from the perspectives of both educators and high school students as they built and used the first iteration of the Toolkit.

Once the workshop was underway, the participants were divided into three teams, each working collaboratively to make the soft robotic claw. As a finished product, the claw can be used to pick up items. One Toolkit team member sat down with the groups to observe and engage them in conversation during and after the activity to learn more about their experiences. It was the first time the educators had ever heard about soft robotics and worked with a material like silicone. “It’s interesting to see robotics being soft and crafty,” one teacher remarked.

A member of the Soft Robotics Toolkit team, Ankur Goel (right), leading the workshop of educators and students.

Once each group successfully completed the manual Soft Robot Claw, the Toolkit team gave a demo of the electronics extension. As users, the students and teachers gave valuable insights into areas of the instructions that need to be clearer for an Indian classroom setting, what age group they found the Toolkit most suitable for, and any additions to the Toolkit that would make it even more exciting.

So, What Did They Learn?

At the end of the workshop, the participants mentioned a variety of takeaways.

Not only was this an introduction to soft robotics for everyone, but it was also an opportunity to learn the simplified design process — concepts like molding, casting, and actuation. Plus, a few of the teachers felt this was an opportunity to practice teamwork and project planning, describing how the Toolkit fits into existing science and robotics curriculum in their schools. “This can be a perfect start of the robotics program!” said one teacher from Shiv Nadar School. 

The student team, made up of 11th and 12th graders from Shiv Nadar School, discussed how they could use parts of the Toolkit and the soft robotics concepts in their high school robotics competition, and expressed the utility of making Toolkits for students who have already been exposed to robotics.

In the coming weeks, all of the educators involved are looking forward to conducting similar workshops with their own students. With continued education and observation, the Soft Robotics Toolkit team will gain more insights that will help them support the growth of STEM education.