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Robot explorer

  • Key Stage 3
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Case study
Topic: Forces

This is a Mission Impossible style challenge aimed at Design and Technology. If you're a science teacher, share it with your D&T colleagues by clicking the 'send to a friend' button.

A Martian expedition has found evidence of alien life, and needs a robotic vehicle to investigate further. In the first lesson, students prepare to design a ‘Wheel-less All Terrain Vehicle’. They do this by researching possible vehicle structures and examining different types of movement using simple modelling software – Sodarace – in which virtual creatures race against each other over 2D terrains. Next lesson, students will actually create their designs. In the second lesson of ‘Robot Explorer’, a Mission Impossible style challenge for Design and Technology. In the first activity, students learned about structures and movement. In this activity, they actually create their designs.

The activity makes use of ‘Sodarace’ (, the ‘online olympics’ where virtual creatures race against each other over 2D terrains.

Published: 23rd June 2008
Reviews & Comments: 0

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Learning objectives

Lesson 1
Students will:
• Understand that there are many different types of structure, both natural and man-made
• Recognise that the shape of a structure determines its strength and weaknesses

Lesson 2
Students will:
• Develop design ideas using a specification and test their ideas against criteria.

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

Lesson 1
KS3 Design and Technology
6a - to recognise and use structures and how to support and reinforce them
6b - use simple tests and appropriate calculations to work out effects of loads

Lesson 2
1d – develop design proposals that match criteria
3b – test how well their products work and then evaluate them

Running the activity

Lesson 1 Starter
Display slides 1 and 2 – perhaps play Mission Impossible music to set the tone.

Display slide 3. Tell students that a design specification sets out what the final product must do. They will need to keep referring to it.

Display slide 4. Tell students that, to help find solutions, they will first look at natural and man-made structures. Get small groups to discuss what makes the structures on slides 4 and 5 stable. They need to look at their shapes, and how they are joined together. The answers are on slide 6. Points to bring out:
• Frame Structures are made of several parts, or members. They are stabilised by triangulation. Triangles are used to reinforce and support weight. Examples – spiders web, bridges, cranes.
• A dome is a 3-D form on a circular base. It is made of equal arches that span the base, called ribs. The ribs meet at the centre of the circle. They press against each other, making the structure stronger. The dome in the picture has triangular members to help maintain its shape and strength. Natural example – a nest (an inverted dome).
• Shell structures are made from a continuous skin. The shape of the structure provides its strength. Most are made from thin sheet material to make them light. Many have ridges or curves moulded into them to make them strong. Examples – honeycomb, tin cans, bottles, food containers, car and aeroplane bodies.
• Many structures are a combination of frame and shell structures.
• When a structure cannot support itself and the load or force on it, it breaks. This is structural failure.

Download the teachers notes to see the rest of the guidance

Lesson 2 Starter
Display slide 1. Ask students to report on their homework research. Then remind students of the race activity from last lesson. To do this:

1) Show different kinds of movements using this 'SodaRace'

(You need 'Java' installed on your PC to use the software. If you find you have to install it, download it from:

2) Click on Race - both constructions will now race against each other (it can be speeded up or slowed down, and is most fun at the fastest speed)

3) Watch carefully to see how the creatures move. Daintywalker is the only one that uses the idea of walking, and has much better directional control.

Display slide 2, and get students to begin the task. Point out that one purpose of the sketches and notes is to explain to an ‘outsider’ how the vehicles will function.

Alternatively, more able/IT literate students can use the SodaConstructor application to create their design. A ‘SodaPlay tutorial’ document is supplied to help them do this. Students can save their designs and race them against each other using the SodaRace application:

Show slide 3, and give out copies of slide 4. Students evaluate their first design by awarding 0, 1, 2, or 3 marks to show how closely it achieves each aspect of the spec. They repeat for their other two designs. They then create a final design, which may be very similar to one of their three original designs, or which may incorporate the best parts of all or some of the designs. Students annotate their final design to explain how it will move, carry the payload and adapt to the environment.

Download the teachers notes to see the rest of the guidance

News links

The web-based software for building structures and creatures that move, and can be raced against each other.
Computer Science for Fun
A site from one of the developers of SodaRace, on the fun side of computer science - about people, solving puzzles, creativity, changing the future.

Media links

Show different kinds of movements using this 'SodaRace'
More Sodarace
Further kinds of movements are illustrated by the creatures in this race

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