Hands-on Activity: Robot Sensors and Sound

Contributed by: GK-12 Program, Computational Neurobiology Center, College of Engineering, University of Missouri

An image shows a dexterous robot hand and wrist, which appears to be delicately screwing in a light bulb.
Robots are capable of performing human tasks because of their use of sensors.
copyright
Copyright © 2007 Richard Greenhill and Hugo Elias, Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shadow_Hand_Bulb_large.jpg

Summary

Students continue to build a rigorous background in human sensors and their engineering equivalents by learning about electronic touch, light, sound and ultrasonic sensors that measure physical quantities somewhat like eyes, ears and skin. Specifically, they learn about microphones as one example of sound sensors, how sounds differ (intensity, pitch) and the components of sound waves (wavelength, period, frequency, amplitude). Using microphones connected to computers running (free) Audacity® software, student teams experiment with machine-generated sounds and their own voices and observe the resulting sound waves on the screen, helping them to understand that sounds are waves. Students take pre/post quizzes, complete a worksheet and watch two short online videos about "seeing" sound.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Biological engineers and neuroscientists perceive the human body as a functioning, controlled system, similar to a robot. Research is showing that mathematical principles similar to those used in robotics are extremely useful or even necessary for a complete understanding of the human body. Engineer-designed sensors are used in a wide variety of applications, everything from nightlights to touchscreens to navigation by sonar and radar By relating the functioning of human senses to human-made equivalent sensors used in robots, students heighten their understanding of both.

Pre-Req Knowledge

  • A basic understanding of the primary five senses of the human body: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.
  • Completion of the previous unit in the series: Our Bodies Have Computer and Sensors.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • List some human-made sensors that are the electronic equivalents to human sensory organs.
  • Explain the operational principles of electronic sensors.
  • Compare how a sound sensor (such as a microphone) works, compared to human ears.
  • Describe sound in terms of pitch, as well as in the form of a sound wave.

More Curriculum Like This

What Is a Sensor?

Students gain a rigorous background in the primary human "sensors," as preparation for comparing them to some electronic equivalents in the associated activity. Students learn the concept of "stimulus-sensor-coordinator-effector-response" to describe the human and electronic sensory processes.

Elementary Lesson
How Do Human Sensors Work?

This lesson highlights the similarities between human sensors and their engineering counterparts. Taking this approach enables students to view the human body as a system, that is, from the perspective of an engineer. Humans have recreated most human sensors in robots – eyes, ears and sensors for te...

Elementary Lesson
How Does a Sound Sensor Work?

Students learn about how sound sensors work, reinforcing their similarities to the human sense of hearing. They look at the hearing process—sound waves converted to electrical signals sent to the brain—through human ear anatomy as well as sound sensors.

Human and Robot Sensors

Students are provided with a rigorous background in human "sensors" (including information on the main five senses, sensor anatomies, and nervous system process) and their engineering equivalents, setting the stage for three associated activities involving sound sensors on LEGO® robots.

Middle School Lesson

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Develop a model of waves to describe patterns in terms of amplitude and wavelength and that waves can cause objects to move. (Grade 4) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Use mathematical representations to describe a simple model for waves that includes how the amplitude of a wave is related to the energy in a wave. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Gather and synthesize information that sensory receptors respond to stimuli by sending messages to the brain for immediate behavior or storage as memories. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Various relationships exist between technology and other fields of study. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Knowledge gained from other fields of study has a direct effect on the development of technological products and systems. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Describe how new technologies have helped scientists make better observations and measurements for investigations (e.g., telescopes, magnifiers, balances, microscopes, computers, stethoscopes, thermometers) (Grade 4) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Make qualitative observations using the five senses (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Describe how new technologies have helped scientists make better observations and measurements for investigations (e.g., telescopes, electronic balances, electronic microscopes, x-ray technology, computers, ultrasounds, computer probes such as thermometers) (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify receivers of visible light energy (e.g., eye, photocell) (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Explain the interactions between the nervous and muscular systems when an organism responds to a stimulus (Grade 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each group needs:

  • Audacity software, for recording and editing sound; free download at http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
  • computer with the Audacity software installed
  • computer microphone, available at electronics stores such as RadioShack® or Best Buy®
  • Sound Pre-Quiz, one per student
  • Sound Worksheet, one per student
  • Sound Post-Quiz, one per student

To share with the entire class:

Introduction/Motivation

How many sensors like those found in humans have been duplicated in robots? Can you name some? What sensors can detect sound? On the topic of sounds, what exactly is sound? How is it formed and how do we describe different sounds? We will answer all these questions today!

First let's review some different robot sensors and how they work, and then we'll do on a fun hands-on activity in which you'll use software to record sounds and look at their waveforms. Let's get started!

Vocabulary/Definitions

auditory: Related to hearing.

olfactory: Related to smell.

peripheral: Surrounding.

sensor: A device that converts one type of signal to another; for instance, the speedometer in a car collects physical data and calculates and displays the speed the car is moving.

ultrasonic: A sound at a frequency that humans cannot hear, but dogs and bats can.

Procedure

Background

Audacity is free, open source, cross-platform software for recording and editing sounds. Audacity shows sound waves on the screen as a person speaks into a microphone.

Before the Activity

  • Gather materials and make copies of the Sound Pre-Quiz, Sound Worksheet and Sound Post-Quiz, one each per student. The quizzes and worksheet are provided as separate attachments, and also embedded in the presentation so they can be presented to the class as a whole, if desired.
  • Prior to class, review the references listed in the Additional Multimedia Support section on the topics of NXT robots and sensors, brain parts, and Audacity software and tutorial.
  • Use the 28-slide Robot Sensors and Sound Presentation, a PowerPoint file, to teach and conduct the activity. Set up a computer/projector to show the presentation to the class.
  • Arrange for enough computers so you have one for each student group. Make sure each computer has the Audacity software loaded.

With the Students

  1. Ask the class: How many human senses have been duplicated in robots? Write students' ideas on the classroom board and inform them that you will return to this question after a few slides.
  2. Spend about 20 minutes reviewing robot sensors with the class (slides 1-7). Introduce the microphone (slide 5) one commonly used sound sensor, since it will be used in the activity. Summarize and emphasize the similarities between robot sensors and human sensors (slide 7). A robot's light and ultrasonic sensors are like eyes; its sound sensors are like ears; its touch sensors are like skin.
  3. Proceed to conduct the What Is Sound? Activity, starting at slide 8. Expect the activity to take 30 minutes.
  4. Administer the pre-quiz by handing out paper copies (also on slide 9). Answers are on slide 10.
  5. (slides 11-12) Review the science of sound that students learned from the associated lesson. Show them the five-minute "Science of Sound" video (if they haven't already seen it as part of the associated lesson; link provided on slide 11). Then present more detail (slides 13-16) about how sounds differ (intensity, pitch), the components of sound waves (wavelength, period, frequency, amplitude), and foreshadow the experiment. If time permits, show students to two short online videos about "seeing" sound (links on slide 17).
  6. Divide the class into groups of three students each. Have student groups assemble at the computers with microphones. The entire activity is described on slides 18-25.
  7. (slides 18-19) Begin by introducing the hands-on activity.
  8. Then distribute the worksheet (also on slide 20), which provides questions for students to answer as they go through the activity.
  9. Slides 21-25 provide more detailed activity instructions, including screen captures and steps for using the Audacity application. Show students how to start Audacity and open a file to record sounds (slides 21-22).
  10. First, have students try different sounds generated by the software itself (slide 23), and then record their own sounds (slides 24-25).
  11. At activity end, lead a class discussion about the activity. Give students a chance to share their observations, questions and conclusions. Guide the discussion with the questions provided in the Assessment section.
  12. Administer the post-quiz by handing out paper copies (also on slide 26). Answers are on slide 27. Vocabulary are provided on slide 28.

Attachments

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Pre-Quiz: Administer the Sound Pre-Quiz (also on slide 9) to assess students' prior knowledge about sound, pitch and sound waves. Answers are provided on the Sound Pre-Quiz Answer Key (and slide 10).

Activity Embedded Assessment

Worksheet: As students work through the activity, have them answer the questions provided on the Sound Worksheet (also on slide 20). Observe students to make sure they are engaged and completing their worksheets. Collect the worksheets at activity end and review their observations and answers to gauge their depth of comprehension.

Post-Activity Assessment

Concluding Discussion: At activity end, lead a class discussion so students can share their observations, questions and conclusions. Example discussion questions:

  • What did you learn about robot sensors?
  • What types are available? What do they do?
  • How are they similar and different from human sensors?
  • What did you lean about sound sensors?
  • Specifically, how does a sound sensor (such as a microphone) work, compared to human ears.
  • What did you learn about sound waves? (wavelength, period frequency, amplitude)
  • What do we mean by sound intensity and pitch?
  • How would you explain what sound is to someone in your family?

Post-Quiz: At activity end, administer the Sound Post-Quiz (also slide 26). Answers are provided on the Sound Post-Quiz Answer Key (and slide 27). Review students' answers to assess their understanding of the concepts of sound, sounds waves, and pitch that they explored in the activity.

Activity Scaling

  • Adjust the slide presentation by editing and removing some slides for lower grades, and editing and adding additional slides for upper grades.

Additional Multimedia Support

Audacity software: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/

Audacity tutorial: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/manual-1.2/tutorials.html

NASA Connect video on the "Science of Sound" explores the basics of sound including how it works and how it travels, as well as how the ear works. (5:04 minutes; video in presentation): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ovMh2A3P5k

NXT robots and sensors: http://mindstorms.lego.com/eng/Overview/default.aspx

Show students the "Acoustic Water Dance" video of water moving due to sound waves from a speaker (4:44 minutes; optional video in presentation): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tI6S5CS-6JI

Show students the "Sound Waves" video of sand patterns that form at different pitches (2:10 minutes; optional video in presentation): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9GBf8y0lY0

Contributors

Srijith Nair, Pranit Samarth, Satish S. Nair

Copyright

© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2013 Curators of the University of Missouri

Supporting Program

GK-12 Program, Computational Neurobiology Center, College of Engineering, University of Missouri

Acknowledgements

This curriculum was developed under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. DGE 0440524. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: June 6, 2017

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