3 Remote Learning Tips

It goes without saying that many of us are spending a LOT more time indoors and on screens nowadays.

Thankfully, technology has made the switch to remote learning and remote work much smoother!

But, it’s also brought new challenges.

How can I remain productive in a world where so much is digital? What are some strategies I can apply to build a healthier relationship with technology? What’s the best way to work and learn remotely? These are just a few of the questions we hope to answer in this post.


1. Get comfortable

For starters, a comfortable seating position is essential! When sitting for long periods of time, our bodies become strained from the lack of physical activity.

And no, you don’t need to break the bank on a fancy new chair! While some high-priced ergonomic solutions might be handy, they’re certainly not a necessity when trying to find physical comfort at your workspace. Here are a few quick pointers for when you’re sitting at your workspace:

  • Keep your arms resting level with your desk, with your feet planted firmly on the ground.
  • Keep your thighs relaxed and shoulders back
  • Maintain an upright posture throughout the workday
  • If you’re using a monitor, it should be about an arm’s length away from your sitting position.

On a similar note, laptops and other mobile devices have been notorious for causing neck strain. One way to solve this issue is to raise it to your eye level so that you can comfortably sit upright while using your computer. Some people do this with a stack of books, others might buy an adjustable stand, like these ones.

2. Take care of your eyes

Using screens for long periods of time has some downsides! One negative is the fact that blue light emitted from devices has the potential to disrupt our sleep patterns.

One way to combat this is to set up our devices so that our screen colours are warmer (less blue). The feature that helps do this is named something different for each type of device, but generally you should look for something called “Night mode”, “Night shift”, “Night light”, or something similar. Some monitors even have this built-in. Samsung, for example, [calls it “Eye saver mode](https://www.samsung.com/africa_en/monitors/flat/led-monitor-27-inch-ls27e390hs-xa/#:~:text=Eye Saver Mode%3A Unlike other,the touch of a button.)“.

Click [here](https://www.pcmag.com/how-to/how-to-stop-blue-light-from-disturbing-your-sleep#:~:text=Click the Start button and,enable Night light mode immediately.) to read a great article that covers how to set up this feature on your device. A bonus is that this setting is incredibly easy to set up, it’ll only take 60 seconds to potentially save you hours of sleep each night!

3. Treat yourself

Taking breaks is perhaps the most important tip on this list. Physical and mental breaks.

Physically, we harm our bodies when we sit for too long. [Sitting has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, muscle and joint stiffness, anxiety, depression, and a slew of other bad stuff](https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/the-dangers-of-sitting#:~:text=Sitting or lying down for,physical activity in your day.)! While it’s certainly tougher to be physically active nowadays with so many teachers, students, and other workers cooped up at home, there are still things we can do to stay mobile. Here’s a few quick tips:

  • Spend a portion of your lunch hour outside on a walk
  • Take short breaks throughout the day to stretch, do some yoga, or a mini-workout. There’s plenty of apps today that offer short activities that can be done at home, like the Nike Training Club App
  • Set reminders for yourself to stand at least once every hour from your desk

We also need breaks for mental and emotional reasons. Stepping away from the computer screen allows us to recharge for the next class, meeting, or study session, all the while lessening our risk of burnout. According to this article, “[A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health. It could be a five-minute pause from cleaning your kitchen, a half-hour lunch break at work or a weekend exploring somewhere new](https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/looking-after-your-mental-health/take-break#:~:text=A change of scene or,enough to de-stress you.)

What’s your #1 tip for remote learning and remote work? Tell us by emailing support@cogmation.com!

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An Interview with Marwa Soudi (The Cogcast #001)

Stream The Cogcast, Hosted by Cogmation Robotics

Spotify

Apple Podcasts

Stitcher


Bio

Marwa Soudi is an engineer, entrepreneur, teacher, and self-proclaimed tinkerer who claims she never uses a manual to build furniture. Marwa has a B.Sc. in Electronics and Electrical Engineering, as well as a M.Sc. in High Power Lasers and Meta-material devices from Alexandria University. She has also earned her Masters in Educational Technology from the University of Tartu. She co-founded the STEM-centric company, Ideasgym, in 2011, an organization which enriches the educational journeys of children in Egypt through project-based curricula. Marwa is decorated with a lengthy list of awards, including but not limited to:

• Winning first place in the MSMEs category for her Ideasgym work in the Women in ICT Awards • Being a finalist in Miss Digital Africa 2019

• Being selected as a Tony Elemelu Foundation Entrepreneur in 2018

• She has been a World Robot Olympiad National Organizer

• She has been a former speaker at the 2012 Global Education Forum in Dubai

In addition to all of these accomplishments, Marwa is also a co-founder of the IEEE Egypt Women in Engineering affinity group, a former IEEE RAS Juniors chair, and was a DigiGirlz robotics workshops leader for Microsoft Egypt from 2014 to 2019. As we speak, her and her team are working hard to develop a new e-learning environment based on constructionist principles.

Get in Contact!

Follow Marwa and IdeasGym via the links below!

Marwa’s LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/marwasoudi

IdeasGym website – https://ideasgym.com

IdeasGym on LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/company/ideasgym/

IdeasGym on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/ideasgymegypt/

IdeasGym on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/IdeasGym

IdeasGym on Twitter – https://twitter.com/IdeasGym


Time Stamps

3:00 – Her work with IdeasGym & Tools, teaching during a pandemic

8:51 – On troubleshooting and how to cultivate it as a skill

14:40 – Failure’s Role in the Learning Process

22:25 – What She Learns from her Students

31:02 – Building a Healthy Relationship with Technology

39:00 – Mental Wellbeing, Combating Burnout, Splitting Focus, Mission as a Teacher

42:25 – How the Transmission Model Fails and What we Should Do Instead

44:15 – Avoiding the Jargon Trap, Communicating Effectively with Students and Colleagues

50:58 – What she Learned from her Teachers and Why We Should Teach Differently

59:37 – Where Technology Is Going and How the World Will Have to Adapt

1:06:45 – Message to Everyone Sound effects from https://www.zapsplat.com.

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How to Set Up and Use the Virtual Robotics Toolkit in a Hosted Environment

The following content is credited to Ariel Hershler of Learning Works. His personal and professional links can be found below:


Background

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, many teams around the world are unable to meet up physically to work on designing and programming their robot. Some teams are able to meet physically only outdoors, which is not an appropriate environment for working on the robot. Many teams are unable to meet at all, holding all of their team meetings using collaboration tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. These tools work reasonably well for general team discussions, breakout sessions, working on the research project, etc.; however, teams would like to start working on designing, building and programming their robots. This blog shows a way to do this.

Cogmation Robotics Inc.’s Virtual Robotics Toolkit (VRT)

The VRT is an advanced robot simulator. A team can import a robot design made using Lego CAD tools such as Lego Digital Designer (LDD), BrickLink Studio 2.0, and others. The VRT converts this imported robot design into a very precise, working simulation of a robot, which can be programmed using either the legacy Lego EV3 Programming environment (based on LabView), or using the new Lego Classroom Programming environment (based on Scratch). The VRT can execute the programming with great accuracy, showing the simulated robot performing the programming in a 3D simulation which can be viewed from all angles.

Because it is so advanced, for optimal results the VRT requires a fairly high end computer with a graphics processor (GPU). For a detailed list of system requirements, see Cogmation’s FAQ page.

These computers can be fairly expensive. To lower the cost for teams to use the VRT, this blog shows a way to set up and use the VRT in a hosted environment. This blog shows how to do this using Amazon Web Services (AWS), although the techniques shown here will work for many other hosted environments, as long as they offer the option to include a dedicated graphics processor (GPU).

Please note that since we need to use a high-end computer with a dedicated graphics processor, we cannot take advantage of the AWS Free Tier. To set this up, one will, at a minimum, need to pay a monthly fee and a per-hour fee, in addition to any software licensing charges. Depending on your usage pattern, it may be cheaper to pay a higher monthly fee with no hourly charges.

Setting up an AWS WorkSpaces Account and Logging in to the AWS Console

a) Click this link: https://aws.amazon.com/workspaces/

b) Click on this button:

c) You will be asked to either sign in, or create a new AWS account. To set up a new account, click on

d) You will get a screen like this:

We recommend using a dedicated email address for this account, as it will have a lot of permissions, including the ability to set up and configure new services, thereby incurring financial charges. You should check that you have access to emails received by this email address.

We recommend using a strong password for this account, such as a password consisting of 25 random upper-case and lower-case characters as well as digits and symbols.

After entering this basic information, you will be taken to a few more screens, asking for your contact information and credit card details. Your credit card will be verified with a temporary charge, and your phone number will be verified with a text message (SMS) or a voice call.

When you have successfully entered all of this information, you will be asked to select a Support Plan. We are using the free Basic Plan. You can always change this later from the AWS Console.

When you are done, AWS will create your account and send you an email when your account is ready.

When your account is ready, you will be able to log in to the AWS Console.

Setting up the WorkSpaces Virtual Computer with Graphics Processor (GPU)

Once you have logged in to the AWS Console, either type in “WorkSpaces” in the search bar on top, or find “WorkSpaces” by expanding “All Services” and looking under “End User Computing”:

Next, you’ll need to select the region where your virtual computer will be hosted. In general, you should pick a region that is geographically closest to you. However, please note that not all regions support the Graphics bundle we want to use. Therefore, if you select a region and then are unable to continue according to this write-up, you’ll need to select a different region.

For the purposes of this blog, I selected US-West (Oregon).

Once you select the region, you will see a screen like this:

a) Click the button.

b) On the next screen, you can click the first button if you’re just setting up one virtual environment. Skip to step f) if you want more control over the process, or if you tried this and didn’t have success.

c) On the next screen, select “Graphics” from the second dropdown (do not select “Graphics Pro” as that is a more expensive bundle not needed for our purposes), and then select “Graphics with Windows 10” in the list:

Please note that if these choices are not available, you will need to select a different region by changing the selected region in the top right hand corner of the AWS Console.

d) Below the list in which you just selected “Graphics with Windows 10”, you will see the following:

We strongly recommend entering a different user account and not the AWS Console user you created earlier. 

The user account entered here is comparable to the local administrative account on a regular Windows computer: it will be used to log into the virtual environment and can modify that environment by installing or removing applications and make other changes.  

Consider that this account will usually be used by the team mentor(s).

The email address you fill out here will receive an email with details on how to set a password, download the AWS WorkSpaces client software, and access the virtual environment. Please note that all of this will be used only by the team mentor(s).

e) After filling in these details, click on .

It may take a considerable time (up to 20 minutes) until the user account entered in step d) receives  an email with the aforementioned details. You must wait until the virtual computer has been provisioned by AWS WorkSpaces. If you get an error message, you may want to continue with the next step.

f) Under some circumstances, the above process may not succeed in provisioning an AWS WorkSpace. Here we are documenting the steps taken to do the process manually, step by step. This is also useful in case you want more control over the process, or if you already had one or more virtual computers and need to add more.

g) The first thing you need to set up is an AWS directory. This is like a phonebook of all your users. If you are coming from the AWS Console, click WorkSpaces. Then, click Directories in the menu on the left. If there already is a directory in the list, you can skip the next step, which explains a bit about setting up a directory.

h) To set up a directory, click on .

You will be asked to select which type of directory you want to set up. In most cases, we recommend using “Simple AD”, which is included in the cost of WorkSpaces. If you use other Microsoft services, you may want to create a “Managed Microsoft AD”, at additional cost. If you are part of an organization that uses Microsoft Active Directory to manage its users, you may want to create an AD Connector so that the AWS services can access the existing Active Directory of your organization.

i) Assuming you have a directory, click on WorkSpaces in the menu on the left, and then click  .

j) The first step is to select the directory that will include the new virtual computer and its user account(s). If you already have a directory, it should already be selected in the drop-down list. If you have more than one directory, select the one appropriate for this computer. If you do not have any directories yet, go back to step h).

Click on .

k) In this step we either create or select the user for whom we are creating this WorkSpace. If you have a Simple AD, we recommend clicking on to see a list of all users included in the directory. The resulting list may include the username for whom we are creating this WorkSpace. If so, select that user, then click .

If the list of users does not include an appropriate username, fill out the fields in the top part of the screen and click  .

At the bottom of the screen, there should now be a list with the username for whom we are creating this WorkSpace. 

Click .

l) In this step, select “Graphics” from the second dropdown (do not select “Graphics Pro” as that is a more expensive bundle not needed for our purposes), and then select “Graphics with Windows 10” in the list:

Please note that if these choices are not available, you will need to select a different region by changing the selected region in the top right hand corner of the AWS Console.

In the bottom part of the screen, the selected bundle should be assigned to the username you selected in the previous step. 

Click .

m) In this step, we select the Running Mode. We recommend “AutoStop”, but if you are going to use this WorkSpace for an extensive number of hours each month, the “AlwaysOn” option may work out cheaper.

We are not using encryption, so keep the two checkboxes in the middle of the screen clear.

Tags are useful if you have multiple WorkSpaces and wish to tag them individually so you can identify the cost of each WorkSpace in the reports. 

Click .

n) In this step you can review the WorkSpace that is about to be launched (i.e. created). Note that the WorkSpace you are about to create is not free; you will be billed for the cost of creating this WorkSpace and for running it. 

After reviewing the details, click on to create the WorkSpace.

o) You may receive a warning in the top of the screen:

In this case, you will need to open a service request to increase the limit. Click on this link to open the appropriate service request: https://console.aws.amazon.com/support/home#/case/create?issueType=service-limit-increase&limitType=service-code-workspaces

In the service request you will need to request an increase specifically for the “Graphics” WorkSpace. You will receive an email when the service request has been processed, whereupon you will need to go back to step f).

p) As noted earlier, it may take up to 20 minutes until the user selected in step k) receives an email with the instructions on how to continue.

Logging in to the New WorkSpace for the First Time

The user selected during the WorkSpace launching process described in the previous paragraph, will receive an email with further instructions. This paragraph describes these instructions.

a) The email includes a link. Either click on the link in the email, or copy and paste the entire link, taking care not to copy any preceding or following spaces. 

When this link opens, you will see the below window asking for a new password for the user account. Most of the other fields will have already been filled out. 

We recommend using a strong password for this account, such as a password consisting of 25 random upper-case and lower-case characters as well as digits and symbols.

After filling in the “New Password” and the “Confirm new password” fields, click on the button.

b) You will be automatically logged in. At the bottom of the screen you will find icons for the various client downloads for different operating systems: 

Download, install, and run the client for the operating system of the device on which you will be accessing the WorkSpace.

c) When you run the client, you will see this screen:

d) Enter the registration code from the email you received earlier, and click the “Register” button.

e) You will then see the following screen, asking for your credentials to the WorkSpace:

f) Enter the username (as stated in the email) and the password (as set in step a) for the user account assigned to this WorkSpace, and click “Sign In”.

g) You should now have access to the remote WorkSpace. We strongly recommend searching for and applying all security updates before continuing with the next steps. Note that applying security updates may require one or more restarts of the WorkSpace, during which you will be disconnected and will need to log in again.

Completing the Setup of the WorkSpace

After logging into the WorkSpace for the first time, and applying all security updates, download and install the following software, in the listed order, onto the WorkSpace:

After installing all of the above software, launch VRT, enter Advanced Mode by pressing F12 on your keyboard (or Fn+F12 on Mac), and select “Patch Lego Digital Designer” from the Help menu.

To allow the EV3 programming environment to open without issues, open Internet Options from the Control Panel, select the Security tab, click “Custom”, and set all options to “Enable”, even though some of these are insecure. As long as you do not use Internet Explorer to browse the Internet (use Firefox or Chrome instead), this should not actually cause any issue. 

7. How to use the WorkSpace

Whenever a team wishes to use the WorkSpace collaboratively, follow these steps:

a) The mentor runs the WorkSpaces client and logs in to the WorkSpace as described earlier.

b) The mentor also schedules a Zoom session and starts this Zoom session from their own device (we recommend not to start the Zoom session on the WorkSpace so that the WorkSpace will not be the host of the Zoom session).

c) If so desired, the mentor prepares the WorkSpace for the work the team is to work on (i.e. opens a VRT session, imports a robot, opens the programming, etc.)

d) The mentor runs Zoom on the WorkSpace and joins the Zoom session.

e) The mentor invites the team members to the Zoom, and the team discusses the work to be done.

f) When ready to work on the WorkSpace, the mentor allows the Zoom session on the WorkSpace to share its screen (through the WorkSpaces client), and approves requests to control the screen by team members.

g) Files can be shared with the WorkSpace through the “Files” feature of the Zoom Chat. Of course, the mentor may also install the Amazon WorkDocs client, allowing automatic synchronizing of selected files between the mentor’s local device and the WorkSpace. A detailed description of this feature is beyond the scope of this document.

h) When the session is finished, close all programs including Zoom on the WorkSpace, and then log out of the WorkSpace session using the WorkSpace client. If the WorkSpace is set up for “AutoStop” as recommended in this document, you will be billed only for the time the WorkSpace client is connected to the WorkSpace.

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VRT for Mac Made Easy

Did you know that Mac users can use the Virtual Robotics Toolkit?

We did! And now you do too!

In this post, we’ll be covering a few of the questions most frequently asked about the Mac version of the Virtual Robotics Toolkit. Keep reading to learn more about it!

Is my Version of macOS Compatible?

If you’re using any of the following macOS, the Virtual Robotics Toolkit will work for you! This includes…

  • High Sierra
  • Mojave
  • Catalina

Can I use the EV3 Programming Environment with Mac?

Yes you can! Users operating VRT with macOS 10.13 (High Sierra) will be able to use both the Virtual Robotics Toolkit and the EV3 Programming Environment (which supports Blockly and Javascript) without any limitations.

Learn more about programming using the EV3 Programming Environment by visiting our documentation page!

For others who use Mojave or Catalina, you’re not out of luck! While the software can’t be used with the EV3 Mindstorms programming environment, Virtual Robotics Toolkit for Mac is compatible with Microsoft MakeCode for EV3, which is now built into the software! Read more about how to use MakeCode for EV3 to program your robots by checking out our free MakeCode learning guide.

More Resources

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The Latest Update: VRT 2.8.15719.0

Note: Version number is actually 2.8.15719.0

We made some updates to the software recently. Here’s the highlights!

  • Environments can now be exported as a competition
  • New help menu for a more intuitive experience (click the question mark icon on the top right of the Simple toolbar for tips!)
  • Improved the Measurement Utility user interface
  • Adjusted sizing
  • Updated angle calculations
  • Corrected distance tracking
  • New tips and tricks in the main toolbar
  • Improved the MakeCode window’s performance

Note: Did you know that the Virtual Robotics Toolkit supports MakeCode? Download our free learning guide today and find out more!

  • Tuned up the motors and polished the sensors
  • Made the UltraSonic sensor more realistic
  • Greased the gears
  • Gears are now able to spin at lower speeds
  • Improved the gear import process
  • Fixed an issue with importing RSIM files
  • Various bug fixes

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Starting your STEM Journey: Running your First Program with the Virtual Robotics Toolkit

They say that you must walk before you can run, and much like taking your first steps, practice makes perfect. This is an age-old sentiment that’s true for running your first program with the Virtual Robotics Toolkit as well!

Complex programs are difficult to master right away, they may take hours of practice. That’s why this guide is intended to give you a starting point as you begin your coding journey. Without further ado, let’s teach you how to program your first simple program: a square path.


Programming a Square Path

When programming a square path, you may want to avoid the hassle of adding a long line of blocks, primarily because it will save time! This is where loops come in handy. Rather than your program looking like this…

….you could use a loop to simplify it and make your program look like this!

Let’s first look at some of the basics.


Basics of Programming

One of the basic programming blocks is the Move Steering block, which allows you to adjust the number of rotations, seconds, or degrees the robot’s wheels will turn for. It can be found in the Action Programming tab.

Action Programming tab
Move Steering tab

To begin programming a square path, attach a Move Steering block as the starting block. Before continuing to build your line of code, we suggest taking a quick read through the Move Steering Block article on LEGO’s EV3 Programming Guide.

Next, set the speed of this block to any value between 0 and +100, and set the number of rotations you’d like the wheels to perform. Don’t adjust the direction value, as you’ll want your robot to drive straight for the first leg of its journey.

Then, add an additional Move Steering block. It’s best to ensure that this second block is set to a smaller number of rotations (one rotation often works perfectly), because this will be the block that turns our robot into a different direction! If this block is set to more than one rotation, the robot will rotate too far and will not be able to achieve a tight turn.

Next, set this new block’s direction to either a sharp left turn or a sharp right turn. You can do this by adjusting the directional value, pictured below:

Your program should now look like this:

Drag the highlighted blocks into the loop you have already placed. It should look like this:

This program, by default, will repeat indefinitely. If you would like the program to repeat for a certain number of repetitions, seconds, etc., adjust the value in this column:


Connecting to the Virtual Brick

Before your robot can run the program you’ve just created, it must be connected to the LEGO EV3 Programming environment! This can be done in two simple steps.

1. Turn on the virtual brick by pressing the center button

2. Enable WIFI

Connect your virtual brick to WIFI by clicking the box underneath the WIFI icon. Doing this will allow your robot to run your program.


Running your Program

There are three ways to download and run your program in the simulation environment.

1. Click “Download and Run”

Once you have created a program and are ready to try it out, click the gray play button in the bottom right corner of the LEGO EV3 Programming environment. Clicking this button will automatically download and run the program in the simulated environment, it will just take a couple of seconds to work!

2. Using the EV3 Virtual Brick

If you prefer a more realistic programming experience and want to use the EV3 Virtual Brick to run your program, this option may be for you. First, click the downwards arrow icon in the bottom right corner of the LEGO EV3 Programming environment. Clicking this button will download your program to the virtual brick.

Next, navigate to the Virtual Robotics Toolkit window and click the centre button on the Virtual Brick. Note: If it’s not visible, pull up the EV3 Virtual Brick by clicking the EV3 button in Simple Mode (if you are in Advanced Mode, press F12 to change to Simple Mode).

EV3 Button

3. Clicking the Play Button in the EV3 Programming Environment

The third way you can put your newly made code into action is by pressing the green play button in the EV3 Programming Environment.

Simply connect the virtual brick to the EV3 Programming Environment, then click the button (pictured) to play the program!

Play Button

More Resources

Facebook – @cogmation
Twitter – @cogmation
Instagram – @virtualroboticstoolkit
YouTube – Virtual Robotics Toolkit
LinkedIn – Cogmation Robotics

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Meet Priyanka!

Priyanka Tuteja is the Director of Operations and Marketing for Cogmation Robotics, which she joined in 2015 as a Marketing Intern. Over the years, she undertook various roles including Executive Assistant to the General Manager and General Manager.

Prior to her time at Cogmation, Priyanka lived in India, where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree in Electronics Science. Upon graduation, she worked as a Design Engineer for a Multinational company.

In 2014, Priyanka moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Wanting to put her business skills to the test, she enrolled in an International Business program at Red River College shortly afterwards. Knowing that she loved to teach, she naturally began to teach term courses in Electrical Engineering Technology at the college on occasion.

Priyanka is a new mom to a 21-month-old toddler who keeps her busy at home. She especially loves to travel, an interest that she’s explored quite a bit after joining Cogmation.


Q: What do you love most about your job?

On a day-to-day basis, I get to work with partners around the world who distribute the Virtual Robotics Toolkit, and I meet amazing people who are changing students’ life one line of code at a time.

I believe that the Virtual Robotics Toolkit is the ultimate solution to teach coding to kids around the world who would never otherwise get the chance. In the last few years, I have seen the world open its arms more and more to digital tools and simulation. I could not be happier for our future generation growing up with this kind of opportunity.

Q: What advice do you have for anyone considering the Virtual Robotics Toolkit as an educational tool?

Kudos to you for trying to take the first step to introduce coding to our future generation. I can assure that you won’t be disappointed. VRT is a great tool to help increase engagement in your classroom and get kids excited about coding. Before getting started, I suggest that you refer to our YouTube channel for different tutorials. Please do not shy away from contacting support@cogmation.com. Our customer support team is very responsive and we are always happy to offer technical support and online demos.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

We plan to get more students around the world engaged with coding and to continue developing VRT. We want to make it more fun and exciting for students, teachers and our various partners all around the world.


Connect with Priyanka!

Email: priyanka@cogmation.com

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Starting from Scratch – A Beginner’s Guide to the Virtual Robotics Toolkit

The Virtual Robotics Toolkit, with all its capabilities, can seem daunting at first! With so many options to choose from, how does one know where to start?

Hopefully by the time you’ve read through this short guide, you’ll have a basic understanding of how to use the software. We’re confident that you’ll love it just as much as we do!

The Basics

If you haven’t had a chance to check out our guide on downloading and installing the Virtual Robotics Toolkit, check that out first – click HERE!


Customizing the User Interface

Default

In this view, the simulation environment is featured on the top, while the EV3 Programming environment can be seen on the bottom.

To start your first project, you’ll only need these two windows, but if you’ve purchased course content and need to log in, click the three-window button to open the Learning Environment. Move your cursor to the top of the screen to reveal the simple toolbar, then click the three-window button.

If you open up other windows in VRT while using the software, click the second-most right button on the top toolbar to return back to the default view.

Default view button

Fully Expanded

To fully expand the simulation environment window, click the VRT button, or maximize icon in the top right corner of its window. Doing this will hide the EV3 Programming environment.


Opening a New Project

The Simulation Projects window is divided into four tabs.

1. Sim Basics: A collection of beginner projects to get you started, including Sandbox, Apartment Cleanup, and Maze.

2. Competition Portal [COMING SOON]: A collection of advanced multi-player projects where you can test your newly learned skills against another friend or autonomous robot.

3. FIRST LEGO League: FIRST LEGO League’s 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 challenge mats (Animal Allies, HydroDynamics, IntoOrbit, City Shaper).

4. WRO (World Robot Olympiad):  World Robot Olympiad’s 2016, 2017, and 2019 challenge mats.


The first tab, “Sim Basics,” contains four projects to help you get started.

• Getting Started is nothing more than an empty room with a robot. In this distraction-free environment, you can learn the basics of starting and stopping the simulator, as well as how to use the keyboard controls to drive the robot.

• Maze helps you learn how to connect the MINDSTORMS® programming environment to the simulator. This will allow us to solve the maze by writing our own programs using MINDSTORMS® software and uploading it to the existing virtual robot in the simulator.

• Clean-up Challenge is the “build” challenge in this training series. While we can use the given robot to clear the playing surface, the real goal here is to introduce LEGO Digital Designer and demonstrate how we can use the LDraw import wizard to work with our own customized robots.

• Apartment is the last in the series of training projects. Here we can use the given robot along with its various attachments, and use our skills to program it to navigate around the room and vacuum the blocks littered on the floor.


The third tab, “FIRST LEGO League,” contains the following challenge mats:

• Animal Allies (2016)

• HydroDynamics (2017)

• IntoOrbit (2018)

• City Shaper (2019)


The fourth tab, “WRO,” contains the following challenges for 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019:

• Recycling Plant, Waste Sorting, Clean Road to School (2016)

• Elementary Challenge, Junior High Challenge, High School Challenge (2017, 2018, & 2019)

Each project tile on the Welcome Screen is further divided into:

  • Preview – A preview video of the challenge.
  • Read More – A PDF built around that particular project file.

Click on the tiled image to launch the project and give your project a name.

The Learning Environment

The Learning Environment is the window located in the top right corner of your screen when you launch the Virtual Robotics Toolkit. It includes helpful resources that you can follow along with as you use our software.

You can access these resources directly from our online user manual or YouTube channel, or you can enter the details of a personal Microsoft account in the Learning Environment window.

Important: Users who choose to log in with a personal Microsoft account will need to email support@cogmation.com in order to register your account with the VRT Learning Environment.

Note: You don’t need the Learning Environment window (top right) to begin using VRT. You can also use VRT with a two-window display. Just press the two-window button (pictured) instead of the three-window button!


Starting & Stopping a Simulation

To start a simulation, all you have to do is press the play button. Once pressed, a green bar will appear along near the top of the screen, indicating that the simulation is active. When a simulation is active, your robot can be freely manipulated.


Simulation is not active (green bar not visible)


Simulation is active (green bar visible along the top of the screen)

When your program has finished running and your robot is no longer in the default starting position, press the stop button, , to reset the simulation. This will bring the robot back to it’s original position.


Driving with the Keyboard

We can only drive and program our robot when the simulator is running.
To turn the simulator “on”, press the Play button and begin driving the robot using the W, A, S, D keyboard keys.

As mentioned earlier, a green band will appear at the top of the screen to let you know that the simulator is “on”. As each key is pressed, it will become highlighted in the on-screen display, and the robot will move in the specified direction.


W = moves the robot forwards

A = turns the robot left

= moves the robot backwards

D = turns the robot right  


Connecting your Virtual Robot to the Programming Environment

It only takes two steps to connect your virtual robot to the LEGO EV3 Programming environment.

1. Turn on the virtual brick by pressing the center button

2. Enable WIFI


The EV3 Programming Environment

The Virtual Robotics Toolkit is designed to work with the EV3 Programming environment. If you are new to MINDSTORMS® programming, the language itself is quite different from traditional programming syntax. Unlike other languages, MINDSTORMS® robots are programmed by arranging sequences of modules to create new behaviors.

Mastering the LEGO EV3 Programming environment requires lots of experience and practice. To keep things simple, we won’t cover all of its details and features, but you’ll be able to self-study using LEGO’s own guide! Click here to access it.

You can also reference our own YouTube channel if you’d like some extra tips and tricks for navigating our software and the EV3 Programming environment! Click here to check it out.


Additional Resources

Facebook: @cogmation
Instagram: @virtualroboticstoolkit
YouTube: Virtual Robotics Toolkit (www.youtube.com/user/VirtualRobotics)
Twitter: @cogmation
LinkedIn: Cogmation Robotics (www.linkedin.com/company/cogmation-robotics)

Full user manual: https://www.virtualroboticstoolkit.com/documentation

Read More

Meet Marwa!

Marwa is an engineer, entrepreneur, and a mother to a nine-year-old girl, but that’s not all. She’s also a consultant of tinkering, complexity and planning, a STEM capacity building manager, and a co-founder of Ideasgym.

Ideasgym is a leader in the educational technology space that teaches students STEM principles using online/mobile learning, as well as face-to-face sessions. She co-founded the business in 2011 with her husband, Yasser Tawfik, who had been introducing robotics education, open innovation, and entrepreneurship to Egypt since 2002. Since both of them are engineers, robotics education eventually became an important part of their growing business!

Ideasgym has already seen great amounts of success. Their course “LEGO Robots Online Training Using VRT” won second place in the DigiEduHackEspoo challenge led by United Nations Innovation Labs in Espoo, Finland.

Marwa has a B.Sc. in Electronics and Electrical Engineering, as well as a M.Sc. in High Power Lasers and Meta-material devices from Alexandria University. She has also earned a M.A. in Educational Technology from the University of Tartu.

Marwa is an accomplished woman with many accolades to her name. She won first place in the MSMEs category for her Ideasgym work in the Women in ICT Awards, hosted by UNDP and MCIT, was a finalist in Miss Digital Africa 2019, and was selected as a Tony Elemelu Foundation Entrepreneur in 2018. Further, she has beeen a World Robot Olympiad National Organizer, and is a former speaker at the 2012 Global Education Forum in Dubai.

Among all of these accomplishments, Marwa is also a co-founder of the IEEE Egypt Women in Engineering affinity group, a former IEEE RAS Juniors chair, and was a DigiGirlz robotics workshops leader for Microsoft Egypt from 2014 to 2019.


Q: How did you first hear about the Virtual Robotics Toolkit?

I heard about the Virtual Robotics Toolkit through the World Robot Olympiad (WRO).

Q: What inspired you to get involved as a partner?

It was always a challenge to purchase robotics kits and make them available to schools. Part of my work involved training disadvantaged groups, and I saw that the high cost of the kits was a challenge.

The exporting and purchasing of robotics kits have been a great burden in Egypt since 2016, and from an engineering perspective, the use of a simulator is one of the essential engineering skills that we are thrilled to teach our students.

Last but not least, the Virtual Robot Toolkit fit perfectly within our pedagogy for the Ideasgym online platform we started.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge as an educator?

Linking the virtual environment to the real environment when using online technologies is a challenge that our team is working on every day. As our online teaching strategy is different than other MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), we are constantly researching to analyze and test our methods. Despite this, our greatest reward is the positive feedback we receive from our students, teachers and educators across the globe.

Q: What advice do you have for anyone considering the Virtual Robotics Toolkit as an educational tool?

VRT is a very good tool – it allows anyone to build a well structured curriculum around it. Prior experience with LEGO robots can be a great asset as it helps you use VRT efficiently.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

We are currently working to test and spread our pedagogy in different countries.


Contact Marwa!

Website: www.ideasgym.com
Facebook: @IdeasGym
Instagram: @IdeasGymEgypt
Twitter: @IdeasGym
LinkedIn: IdeasGym
YouTube: Ideasgym

Read More

Meet Yücel!

Yücel Tekin is the founder and CEO of Robotum, an organization which facilitates robotics workshops for children and teens between the ages of 6 and 19. Robotum acts as a consultant to schools and institutions interested in technology education and competitive robotics. Their talented team of youth builders and programmers routinely attends national and international competitions such as FIRST LEGO League Jr., FIRST LEGO League, and World Robot Olympiad.

Having four degrees, Yücel is a well-educated and experienced individual. After completing two undergraduate degrees in Management and Computer Science, he earned his Master’s in Education Technology, before finally achieving his Ph.D. based on his research into the effects of robotics on mathematics.

Before working on Robotum full-time, Yücel had experience as the Director of Distance Learning at Atilim University, as a Chief Information Officer in the military, as an ICT Instructor, and more.

Yücel is married and has two children, 15 and 16.


Q: How did you first hear about the Virtual Robotics Toolkit?

By searching on Google for a virtual tool compatible with the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robot.

Q: What inspired you to get involved as a partner?

The research I worked on as part of earning my Ph.D. led me to believe that robotics coding will be the leading technology of education in the future.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge as an educator?

The greatest challenge is designing STEM activities that are suitable for improving targeted outcomes in education.

Q: What advice do you have for anyone considering the Virtual Robotics Toolkit as an educational tool?

I advise using Virtual Robotics Toolkit and physical robot kits together. I believe that this hybrid teaching method is more effective than only teaching with physical robots.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

In the future, Yucel wants to design an online adaptive learning environment for ICT education that meets the education needs of both individuals and schools.


Contact Yücel!

Robotum’s website: http://robotum.net/
Instagram: @robotum_net
Facebook: @robotumnet
YouTube: Yücel Tekin

Read More