BSA Robotics Merit Badge insight

I want to share something with everyone. There is an active discussion at the Chibots Yahoo! Group about a project initiated by Eric Gregori. His project consists of designing a low cost programmable robot that can be used in a workshop or course that will help beginners get started with robotics. Although the project is intended to benefit anyone who wants to get started with robotics, a motivating factor was the goal of helping Boy Scouts who want to earn their Robotics Merit Badge.

As the discussion ensued questions, concerns and doubts were raised regarding the requirements that the BSA had defined the merit badge’s pamphlet. This is when the discussion had the pleasure of receiving a post from someone that was involved in elaborating the requirements for this merit badge. The following text is a reprint of his post. Here, he shares what went on behind the scenes back in 2010 when the merit badge was being defined. The post provides an interesting insight into the creation process.

The post follows.


I thought I would chime in here since I was a part of the team that created the Robotics Merit Badge and pamphlet (book).
Several people from industry and academia were invited to help create the requirements and book starting in April 2010.  Some people took a very active role (i.e. Ken Berry, Rick Folea, Laslo Hideg, Richard Tyler).  I helped with the requirements but was short on time for helping with the book.
The was MUCH discussion on the level of expertise needed to complete the MB.  Initially it looked like a college course, but was scaled back tremendously as discussion ensued.  The biggest area of discussion was programming:  ½ of the committee wanted programming to be a requirement, ½ though just knowledge of programming was good enough.  The second largest discussion was kits and building.  In the end, everything was a compromise, and the results are what you see in the pamphlet.  I’m sure the requirements and book will be reassessed in about 2 years.  Don’t forget your audience is MOSTLY 11 through 15 year-olds boys (there are fewer scouts between 15 and 18).
The Merit Badge was first offered nationally on 4/12/2011.  I first offered a Merit Badge “camp” on 5/6 and 5/7; I did another one on 7/20 and 7/23.  Each of them had about 10 scouts and took 9.0 hours.  95% of the scouts finished the merit badge (the lone scout who did not finish missed one of the workshop days – 2 hours).  This also matches with the statistics that Richard Tyler found in his camps.  I had all ages (11 to 16 year-olds).  The motivated 11-year old ran rings around the slightly aloof 16-year old.  I found, overall, that a boy should generally be at least 13-years old.
I used LEGO Mindstorms kits that our department has for the camps/workshops.  Before they attend, scouts must read the MB pamphlet.  On the first day of the camp I give a proficiency exam on the MB pamphlet materials (its amazing when they can pick up if the actually READ the pamphlet).  I then go over the basics of robotics, concepts of the engineering notebook, and have them start the design.  Their homework is to complete the design and look up information for the requirements.  On the build day they spend a Saturday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm building and testing their robot and talking with me about requirements. 
Who can be a MB counselor?  Most people in Chibot can be – I think most have the background to serve.  Talk to your local councils to find out how sign up.
What can Chibots do?  This is one area of outreach that has a beginning and end, with a recognizable structure and format.  Some commented that the book has errors, but it is an amazingly complete overview of robotics.  Can Chibots buy some LEGO or VEX kits and run workshops on demand?
Sorry, I am in NC so I cannot help you with workshops, but if you have further questions feel free to contact me.
James M. Conrad, PhD, PE, PMP, Associate Department Chair and Associate Professor
Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering,  jmconrad at uncc dot edu
UNC-Charlotte, 9201 University City Boulevard, Charlotte, NC  28223