Simulating Self-Driving Cars
Posted 09/03/2019 08:06AM

In one of their first units this year, students in Whitfield’s Field Studies used Sphero robots to model the coding and calculations needed to build a self-driving car. This kind of project exemplifies the coursework of this interdisciplinary, immersive science class that focuses on developing essential skills through project-based learning. Students strengthen their critical-thinking and problem-solving abilities as they identify and solve real-world problems.

A Sphero is a sophisticated and programmable robot housed in a durable polycarbonate shell. It is IOS and Android compatible; students downloaded and used the Sphero Edu app on their smartphones to program and operate the robots.

Working in teams, students calculated and built a track for their Sphero that modeled an actual road that a car would travel. Each road, indicated by pieces of blue tape, had to be less than two meters long, have at least seven distinct segments, and turn at a different angle each time. To be successful, the Sphero had to follow the road exactly.

Students utilized coding and engineering design principles, calculated speed, determined angles and vectors, measured time and distance, evaluated the effect of friction, then graphed and interpreted their data.

“Coding the Sphero to navigate our road design was challenging but it was also fun to make the Sphero talk and change colors,” said Liz Bierhals ’22. “We had to make adjustments for changes in speed and just go one segment at a time for it to work. I also enjoyed learning more about the technology behind self-driving cars.”

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