4 ConclusionThis diploma thesis had its origin in wish to check out opportunities for the use of microcontrollers in technical education. On the way towards an integrated multi-technological learning environment at the Computer Clubhouse Esslingen, the Crickets seemed to be well-fitted. So these microcontroller modules, which had been developed at the MIT Media Laboratory, were chosen as the basis for the practical work.
The various mechanical and electrical systems available at the Computer Clubhouse Esslingen, which the Crickets could potentially interact with, have been analyzed separately in order to learn about their respective properties. Emphasis has been laid on the interfaces that the systems provide to the ‘outside world’, as well as on a comparison of advantages and shortcomings, where competing systems were available.
Both the Cricket hardware and the different software systems that can be used to program the modules have been subject to a thorough analysis. Again, the interfaces have been granted highest attention. At the Cricket module, this applies to the properties of its input and output ports. The focused part of the software has been the user interfaces, as young kids are working with it at the Computer Clubhouse Esslingen.
Based on the findings from the systems’ analysis as well as on the realization that the lack of acceptance towards the Crickets was mainly due to their limited compatibility, two kinds of add-on adapter modules for the Crickets have been developed and built up. While the one type is designed to improve the output characteristics in order to drive two powerful motors, the second adapter type supports four actors which do not need reverse current, e.g. lamps or electromagnets.
In order to extend the possibilities for the use of Crickets, additional sensor and actor devices as well as mechanical adapters have been designed. The resulting parts and the intended unification of different systems around the Crickets have been tested during weekly mentoring sessions with the kids at the Computer Clubhouse Esslingen.
Finally, the documentation has been written with the purpose to share the experiences with other locations organized in the Computer Clubhouse Network and has therefore been adapted to be published on the Internet in both an online format and an edition suitable for downloading and printing.
5 EvaluationThe project schedule that was set up at the beginning of the conception phase could successfully be kept. While certain activities, e.g. the realization of the power supply system and the documentation, took more time than expected, others could adjust the balance by earlier completion.
Before this project, the unsatisfactory condition that the Crickets were only compatible with one type of weak micro motors had caused most kids to ignore the microcontroller modules and concentrate on other activities at the Computer Clubhouse Esslingen. This could be changed significantly by providing the Crickets with universal and powerful interfaces. From pneumatic valves to high-power motors and colorful lamps, virtually any low voltage application can now be controlled by Crickets.
Of the kids’ many challenging and creative suggestions for new applications, only a few could be completed within the given time. This is due to the fact that a significant amount of time was needed to realize the various interfaces and supplements, and therefore only some weeks before the end of the project, all parts have been available to be used.
However, since the different technologies at the Computer Clubhouse Esslingen can now be combined in the desired manner, there is a great potential of Cricket projects that are now ready to be tackled by committed mentors and kids. In accordance with the objectives and the technical requirements of the thesis, this project could thus be completed successfully.
The documentation, especially in the form of the downloadable and online files, may serve to mentors at Computer Clubhouses and to other persons as a reference on the use of microcontrollers like Crickets for educational purposes.
6 Options for Future DevelopmentThis diploma thesis can be a first step in a continuing process to develop an integrated learning system at the Computer Clubhouse Esslingen, in which kids have the opportunity to get familiar with modern technologies.
The example models that have been built up are intended as demonstration objects to show the new abilities that have been added to the Crickets. As the ideas and concepts behind these extensions are documented in this report, Computer Clubhouse mentors will be able to continue this initial project in two main directions:
On the one hand, there is a huge potential of Cricket applications that can now be realized, making the most of the existing environments. As the kids’ suggestions show, their creativity is capable of designing much more applications that can ever be built – it is now up to the mentors to assist them with the realization!
On the other hand, one can think of even more formerly independent systems to be integrated into this pool of technologies. For educational purposes, it could be interesting to free the Crickets from the constraints of power supply cables or electrochemical batteries. Thus, an environmentally friendly ‘Solar Cricket’ add-on module could be an option to be designed.
An idea that has already been mentioned in this report is to use a digital camera to transmit a live image of real applications to a remote computer over the Internet. If it was also possible to generate Cricket commands from an Internet server program, this could mean the closed-loop controlling of a Cricket, which might even be on a different continent.