The term "robot" has been with us almost 100 years. Only this month though has the Boy Scouts’ organization, over 100 years old itself, bestowed the honor of a merit badge upon the robotics phenomena.
In 1921, Karel Capek, a Czech playwright, coined the word "robot" in a simple, and now familiar plot, where man creates robot, robot kills man. That play, RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots) continues today in theatrical productions. In a more altruistic vein 20 years later in 1941, Isaac Asimov used the word "robotics" to describe the technology we have all become so accustomed to. Although a science fiction writer, Asimov predicted the rise in the real world of a powerful robot industry. In 1956, the glimmer of that prediction came to fruition when George Devol and Joseph Engelberger formed the world’s first robot company.
As the 1960’s opened, General Motors was using the first industrial robot on their automobile factory’s assembly line. From there, robotics has become common in the aerospace industry. Aerospace, itself, made its way into the Boy Scout lexicon with a Space Exploration badge which was instituted in 2004.
New versions of the merit badge are more in line with skills boys
need to succeed today. Matt Myers says the organization is trying to remain relevant and better reflect boys’ interests. He oversees the Boy Scouts’ STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and
Mathematics education coalition) initiative which he sees as essential to survival skills in the 21st century, just as camping
skills were essential in the 1900’s. First Aid, a universally accepted necessity, remains the most popular, and practical, badge sought by a scout. Golfing, thought by some to be necessary for corporate survival, was added as a merit badge in 2002, even before Reading became a badge for an aspiring boy.
Merit badges come and go, slowly, in the organization. Certain skills are slow to be recognized. Inventing is a talent that has been around since clothing originated in the Garden of Eden and a musical flute was made out of cave bear bone in Slovenia in 43,100 BC. A badge encouraging this creativity was added just last year. The Music and Bugling badge was added to the Boy Scout’s list also in 2010, along with the Nuclear Science badge, just in time for youngsters to understand what has happened at Fukushima.
Setting the requirements for earning the Robotics badge was a joint effort. Ken Berry, assistant director of the Science and Engineering Education Center at the University of Texas at Dallas was team leader for the group that
included NASA and Lego. He said: "the beauty of robotics is that it combines engineering, math and computer science in a fun format that even young Scouts can master." The scouts now have 31 badges that suit STEM programs. VEX Robotics who sponsors a robotics competition consulted on the requirements and booklet content related to the new badge.
One of the requirements for earning the Robotics badge is to "Explain to your counselor the most likely hazards you may encounter while working with robots and what you should do to anticipate, mitigate and prevent, and respond to these hazards." Such as the potential of being killed by your creation?
Seriously, other requirements include an understanding of the similarities and differences between remote-control vehicles, telerobots, and autonomous robots. The scout chooses a task that the robot must complete, and then must include sensor feedback and programming in the project. After determining three careers where robotic knowledge is applicable, the scout must research the education, training, and experience required for one of them. His counselor will want to know why the scout is interested in that career, and hopefully encourage him to pursue his inclination.
The Girl Scouts have had a Robotics Participation Patch for some time. They could earn it during FIRST’s Lego League (FLL). If the boys want to catch up, the Boy Scout’s website lists a wealth of resources for exploring robotics, including books and a DVD of NOVA’s presentation on PBS. There you will also find online links to sites
explaining how to build a robot and to organizations, such as the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy. The scouting site itself offers robotic kits that meet the requirements for earning the related merit badge. Thus, you should find it easy to get going and involve your son, nephew, or neighbor in the Boy Scout Robotics merit badge program.