SCIENCE OF INNOVATION: Self-Driving Car - An Engineering Perspective (Grades 6-12)

Objective:


SCIENCE OF INNOVATION: Self-Driving Car - An Engineering Perspective (Grades 6-12)


Introduction Notes:


Science of innovation

Self-Driving Cars

An Engineering Perspective (Grades 6–12)

 

Lesson plans produced by the National Science Teachers Association.

Video produced by NBC Learn in collaboration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office
and the National Science Foundation.

 

Background and Planning

 

About the Video

This video discusses a type of car that not long ago existed only in science fiction, television shows, and movies. The Google self-driving car is a type of “smart” car that uses data gathered from multiple on-board devices to navigate through long stretches of open highway, curvy mountainous roads, and bustling intercity traffic. Sebastian Thrun, who is a computer scientist supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Google fellow at Stanford University, has focused his research on designing a car that uses artificial intelligence, or AI, to “drive” the car. Thrun – who works closely with many software engineers, including Nathaniel Fairfield – holds four patents from the United States Patent and Trademark Office on the technology that enables “smart” cars to work. The patents are not related to the car itself, but rather to various key components that controls the car’s internal decision-making system and the car’s communication system, without intervention from any of its occupant(s).

 

0:00     0:14     Series opening

0:15     0:37     Risks of driving

0:38     1:20     Introducing Thrun and self-driving cars

1:21     1:50     Artificial intelligence overview

1:51     2:46     Data gathering devices of Thrun’s self-driving cars

2:47     4:14     Explaining how computers “drive” the self-driving cars

4:15     4:32     Some advantages of self-driving cars

4:33     5:06     Thrun’s patents related to his self-driving cars

5:07     5:44     Summary

5:45     5:55     Closing credits

 

Language Support

To aid those with limited English proficiency or others who need help focusing on the video, make transcript of the video available. Click the Transcript tab on the side of the video window, then copy and paste into a document for student reference.

 

Framework for K-12 Science Education

      LS1.D: Information Processing

      PS4.B: Electromagnetic Radiation

      PS4.C: Information Technologies and Instrumentation

      ETS1.C: Optimizing the Design Solution

      ETS2.A: Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology

      ETS2.B: Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science on Society and the Natural World

(page 1)

Emphasize Innovation

 

The Innovation Process

Inspiration

Innovation often begins with a goal.  At the beginning of the video, Thrun states, “If you want to be innovative, you have to be unhappy, right? I’m very unhappy about the state of transportation today and I really want to change it.” Students might be interested to know that Thrun’s unhappiness, and thus inspiration, stems from a tragedy.  When Thrun was 18, a close friend of his died in a head-on collision when the driver lost control of the car in which Thrun’s friend was a passenger. Since then, Thrun has focused his research on designing artificial intelligence (AI) systems to reduce or eliminate human error in the driving process.

 

Take Action with Students

Encourage students to brainstorm a list of inspirations other than tragedy, such as a general desire to help others, an interest in a particular problem that needs a solution, or an innovation. The innovation can be based on a new idea or an improvement of an earlier technology, both of which should be emphasized as potentially leading to innovations. In 2012, it was widely reported that Steve Jobs’s inspiration for the first Macintosh was the French Minitel, a device that networked people through their phone lines, enabling them to access information such as weather details, communicate through messages and/or “chat”, and search the telephone directory. Show students pictures of a vintage Macintosh SE, such as this one by Flickr photographer Shane Doucett, http://www.flickr.com/photos/shaniber/3360310444/, and the French Minitel, such as this one by Flickr photographer Marie-Hélène Cingal http://www.flickr.com/photos/24271543@N03/6688819583. Ask students to make comparisons of both technologies and their functionalities.

 

Innovation and STEM

The innovation highlighted in Science of Innovation (SOI): Self-Driving Cars incorporates many aspects of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. For example, required knowledge of science includes aspects of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum, wave properties and behavior, and how devices such as radar and GPS work. Math concepts involve the calculations that enable programming of these devices that result in precise motions of the car. In the video, Thrun points out that self-driving cars must be programmed to be able to make “equally good or even better decisions [than humans].” Starting with a vision and relying on science and math knowledge, Thrun is adapting AI technology to solve a problem. In this case, the problem is that, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 80% of crashes and 65% of near-crashes result from driver inattention in the three seconds before the event. Often, the engineering design process includes a flowchart or decision tree that maps out the “logic” of a given device’s functionality – but that is not the case with the self-driving car. Here, the car “learns” through repetitive practice in the surrounding area as it collects data, and then processes that data in real-time to make decisions in relationship to its background knowledge. Software engineer Nathaniel Fairfield adds that after a self-driving car evaluates a situation, it is able to “make decisions about how it wants to actually steer.” This kind of adaptive learning technology is at the heart of making the self-driving car a true innovation.

(page 2)

 

Take Action with Students

         If possible, display a robotic vacuum cleaner and have students make a simple maze using books or pieces of cardboard and allow the device to navigate through the maze as students closely monitor what happens at each obstacle. Then have students observe the “tools” the robot uses to navigate and carry out its function. Help students relate those tools to the science concepts the designer needed to understand before beginning the design process. Alternately, show a promotional video on how they work, such as one of the following, and have students discuss how these robots effectively carry out the various functions: moving, stopping, turning, encountering an obstacle and making a decision about which way to turn.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6QV1BT6QP8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqWsPYzv0a8

         Suggest students find out more about “motion-detecting” devices such as entry doors at stores, automatic yard lights, home burglar sensors, and so on, that work off of infrared or electromagnetic (EM) waves. They might also explore echolocation abilities in certain bats. Have them relate their findings to how the self-driving car locates and detects objects.

         Have students research motion planning as it pertains to robots – specifically, random versus sequential movements. Then, using the Design Investigations section of Facilitate Inquiry as a guide, encourage students to construct a motorized robot from a kit and observe it as it performs a simple task: navigating a simple maze with the fewest number of errors in a given period of time. If time allows, students might design and construct their own robots from available materials, and write simple programs that will enable their robots to successfully move through a maze to mimic the self-driving cars in the video, or to perform some other type of simple task.

 

 

Facilitate Inquiry

Encourage inquiry using a strategy modeled on the research-based science writing heuristic. Student work will vary in complexity and depth depending on grade level, prior knowledge, and creativity. Use the prompts liberally to encourage thought and discussion. Student Copy Masters begin on page 9.

 

Explore Understanding

Have students recall the robotic vacuum demonstration, or have them watch the videos that were made of the device as it navigated the maze. Have students consider how the device “thinks” by posing the following or similar questions:

         What makes the robotic vacuum cleaner move?

         How does the robot move?

         Why is the robot able to move?

         How does the robot avoid obstacles?

         How might the robot “know” to move or climb onto a carpet or piece of floor tile?

         How might any moving device “learn” as it operates?

 

Show the video SOI: Self-Driving Cars and encourage students to jot down notes while they watch. Continue the discussion of robots and how they make decisions using the following or similar prompts:

 

(page 3)

 

         When I watched the video, I thought about….

         The experts in the video claimed that _____ because….

         Based on the video’s description, I think artificial intelligence is….

         The data-gathering devices of Thrun’s car are sensors connected to a _____ in the car that….

         According to the video, the Google self-driving car is unique in that….

         The patents held by Thrun for his self-driving car are related to….

 

Ask Beginning Questions

Stimulate small-group discussion with the prompt: This video makes me think about these questions…. Then, have small groups list questions they have about how a simple robot makes decisions as it moves. Ask groups to choose one question and phrase it in such a way as to be researchable and/or testable. Some examples are:

         How does a robot programmed to perform sequential movements move through a maze?

         How does a robot programmed to perform random movements move through a maze?

         Does a robot always need sensors to avoid obstacles?

 

Design Investigations

Choose one of the following options based on your students’ knowledge, creativity, and ability level and your available materials. Actual materials needed will vary greatly based on these factors as well.

 

Possible Materials

Allow time for students to examine and manipulate the materials you have available. Doing so often aids students in refining their questions or prompts new ones that should be recorded for future investigation. In this inquiry, students might build and test simple motorized robots from kits, such as the Rockit Robot by OWI™, which include sensor circuits and usually do not require soldering (check closely, because some do), or students might build their own robots (e.g. using a basic soldering kit and micro-controllers, motors, batteries, sensors, and other electronic and mechanical components), and program them to navigate a simple maze. Another option is the Mechanical Dog available from Edmund Scientifics at http://www.scientificsonline.com/mechanical-dog-robot-kit.html. Students will also need a variety of hand tools, including small hammers, screwdrivers, and needle-nose pliers, whether they build robots from kits or from scratch. Additionally they will need books, stiff cardboard, and/or wooden blocks to build their mazes, and stop watches or clocks with second hands to time the robots.

 

Safety Considerations

To augment your own safety procedures, see NSTA’s Safety Portal at http://www.nsta.org/portals/safety.aspx.

 

Open Choice Approach(Copy Master page 9)

Groups might come together to agree on building and testing different types of kit robots, or groups might experiment with different materials to make their own robots. Students should brainstorm to form a plan they would have to follow in order to construct and test their robots within constraints they establish. Encourage students with prompts such as the following:

(page 4)

 

         The materials we will use to build our robots and mazes include….

         We will test our robots by….

         A user programming error will be defined as….

         A design error will be defined as….

         We will record and organize our data using….

         To conduct our investigation safely, we will….

 

Focused Approach(Copy Master pages 10–11)

The following exemplifies one way students might test how a simple kit robot with built-in sensors might navigate a maze involving three turns.

1.      Have students follow the instructions that come with the robots to assemble them, offering assistance as needed. Provide fresh batteries as needed to power the robots. Encourage students to think about how the robot might navigate the maze by using the following prompts:

         Our robot senses its surrounding environment with….

         When we turn on the robot, it moves….

         When our robot encounters an obstacle such as a wall or table leg, it….

2.      Once groups have determined how their robots move, have students decide how to construct their mazes to ensure that their robots will navigate them with as few errors as possible. Focus thinking with the following or similar prompts:

         Our maze will be made from _____ because….

         In order for our robot to successfully navigate our maze, the maze must be….

         A navigational error by our robot will be defined as….

         We will allow a maximum time of _____ for our robot to complete the maze.

         We will conduct ____ trials and determine an average time by….

         To safely conduct our investigation, we will…

3.      As students work, remind them to make and record detailed observations of their robots’ movements as they go through their mazes, perhaps with smartphone cameras. Encourage them in recognizing the importance of making accurate measurements of time using the following prompts:

         We know our robot was programmed to move in a (sequential/random) pattern because….

         We will measure the time it takes our robot to complete our maze to the nearest _____ because….

         We will calculate an average time to complete the maze to the nearest _____ because….

4.      Students might continue their investigations by sending another group’s robot through their original mazes, or by constructing more complicated mazes for their original robots, or by designing, constructing, and programming their own robots to navigate a maze or perform some other sort of simple task. Students may also investigate how one robot designed for one maze works in a different maze. Encourage students to think about how they could program robots to be “smarter” so that they are able to navigate different mazes. Tie this back to the video of “smart” cars.

 

(page 5)

5.      Encourage groups of students to exchange plans and robots and then make efforts to improve upon, or innovate, those of the other group. Ask students to think about how the improvements made can contribute to the process of innovation.      

                 

Make a Claim Backed by Evidence

Upon completing their investigations, students should analyze their observations and data in order to state one or more claims. Encourage students with this prompt: As evidenced by… we claim… because….

 

An example claim might be:

As evidenced byour observations, we claim that our robot was programmed to move in a fixed, or sequential way, because each time it encountered an obstacle, it stopped, backed up, and rotated before continuing through the maze.

 

Compare Findings

Encourage students to compare their ideas with those of others—such as classmates who investigated the same or similar questions; material they found on the Internet; experts they chose to interview; or their textbooks. Remind students to credit their original sources in their comparisons. Elicit comparisons from students with prompts such as:

 

         My findings are similar to (or different from) those of the experts in the video in that….

         My findings are similar to (or different from) those of my classmates in that….

         My findings are similar to (or different from) those that I found on the Internet in that….

 

Students might make comparisons like the following:

Our robot was similar to the Google self-driving car because it was able to use sensors to navigate its way through a simple maze. Our robots were different from those discussed in the video because ours were much smaller, had different types of sensors, operated as the result of very simple software, and did not move on actual streets.

 

Reflect on Learning

Students should reflect on their understanding, thinking about how their ideas have changed or what they know now that they didn’t before. Ask groups to give short presentations about their investigations and encourage questions from the audience on their thinking process as well as their procedures and results. Encourage reflection, using prompts such as the following:

         My ideas about this topic changed in the following ways….

         When thinking about the claims made by the experts, I am confused about....

         One part of the investigation I am most proud of is….

         Another investigation I would like to try is….

 

Inquiry Assessment

See the rubric included in the student Copy Masters on page 12.

 

 

(page 6)

 

 


 

 

 

Incorporate Video into Your Lesson Plan

 

Integrate Video in Instruction

Visualize a Concept:  With students, develop a simple yes/no decision-making tree diagram, which is similar to a dichotomous key. Help students understand that this process is very simplistic, and while it can be accomplished at rapid-fire speed, the self-driving car uses a more integrated approach to learning that is similar to the human decision-making process.

 

Homework: Have students research “platooning” as it applies to self-driving cars and write a paragraph or two summarizing the advantages of this concept. Instruct them to relate how tools such as lasers and radar might support this concept. Students might use the following article as a starting point: http://phys.org/news/2010-12-sartre-car-platoon-road-video.html

 

Using the 5E Approach?

If you use a 5E approach to lesson plans, consider incorporating video in these Es:

Engage:  Use the video to start students thinking about how various parts of the human body sense and interpret information, and make comparisons between those and how a self-driving car emulates that process.

Elaborate:  According to Thrun, the major goal of his research is to make roads safer. Have students brainstorm to come up with other ways in which self-driving vehicles are beneficial, such as: allowing people to sleep or get work done as they ”drive” to work or other destinationsL allowing physically disabled people who cannot operate traditional cars to be more mobile; or using the self-driving cars to shuttle people without cars, older people unable to drive anymore, or people who live in cities with limited parking, much like taxi cabs do.

 

Connect to … Math

Statistics:  Have students research to find statistics related to driving, such as the annual number of driving-related fatalities or injuries, the amount of fuel used in this country per year, the number of miles driven in a certain period of time, the number of drivers on the road at any given time, and so on, and how these numbers might change if self-driving cars became the predominant mode of transportation in the United States. Students might start their research at sites such as the following:

         http://www.distraction.gov/content/get-the-facts/facts-and-statistics.html

         http://www.distraction.gov/stats-research-laws/facts-and-statistics.html

 

 

 

 

 

(page 7)


 

 

 

Prompt Innovation with Video

After students watch the video, have them research patents related to self-driving cars. They can do so with an Internet search on Google.com/patents using search terms such as the following. If time is limited, point students toward those patents in the list below.

 

Primary Search Terms

Global Positioning System (GPS)

User interface

Navigation

Sensor/Detector

Approximation

Perception

Estimate

Motion Capture

Pose Variation

Autopilot

Algorithm

Principal Component Analysis (PCA)

Additional Search Terms

3D Component Analysis

Parameter

Dimension

Geographic Positioning

Autonomous

Processor

Steering

Orientation

Recognition

Calculation

Normalization

Identification

 

Patent Examples

5,901,246    method for classifying image data

6,819,783    method of distributing to a user a specific electronic image

6,850,252    digital rights management method

7,006,236    electronic device for detecting a depth of an object's placement on a monitored region

7,340,077    method to enable a person to interact with an electronic device by way of a body part’s gesture

7,694,885    method of receiving an indication of an object that has been automatically detected from visual data

 

Suggest students read abstracts of patents that attract their attention. Then hold a discussion about how various innovators are improving on the process. Use prompts such as the following:

         This patent is for _____, which relates to the invention shown in the video by….

         This patent describes _____, which differs from the invention shown in the video in that….

         I think doing/making _____ would be an innovation because….

 

 

 

 

(page 8)

 


 

Copy Master: Open Choice Inquiry Guide for Students

 

Science of Innovation: Self-Driving Cars

Use this as a guide to make and test a robot that can be compared to the self-driving car discussed in the video. Record all of your notes and observations in your science notebook.

 

Ask Beginning Questions

The video makes me think about these questions….

 

Design Investigations

Choose your materials and brainstorm with your teammates to discuss how you will make and test your robot. Take notes on your discussions. Use these prompts to help you:

         The materials we will use to build our robots and mazes include….

         We will test our robots by….

         An error will be defined as….

         We will record and organize our data using….

         To conduct our investigation safely, we will….

 

Record Data and Observations

Record and organize your data and observations as detailed drawings and/or videos.

 

Make a Claim Backed by Evidence

Analyze your results and make one or more claims based your results. Make sure that the claim goes beyond summarizing your results.

 

My Evidence

My Claim

My Reason

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compare Findings

Review the video and then discuss your findings with some classmates who were not in your group or who tested a different robot or maze. Or do research on the Internet or talk with an expert. How do your findings compare? Be sure to give credit to others when you use their findings in your comparisons.

         My findings are similar to (or different from) the experts in the video in that….

         My findings are similar to (or different from) my classmates in that….

         My findings are similar to (or different from) what I found on the Internet in that….

 

Reflect on Learning

Think about what you found out. How does it fit with what you already knew? How does it change what you thought you knew?

         My ideas about this topic changed in the following ways….

         When thinking about the claims made by the experts, I am confused about....

         One part of the investigation I am most proud of is….

         Another investigation I would like to try is….

(page 9)


 

COPY MASTER: Focused Inquiry Guide for Students

 

Science of Innovation: Self-Driving Cars

Use this guide to make a simple robot and test how it moves through a maze. Record your notes and observations in your science notebook.

 

Ask Beginning Questions

How does a robot with sensors move through a maze?

 

Design Investigations

Discuss with your group how you might ensure that your robot will successfully move through the maze you built. Use these prompts to help you.

         Our robot senses its environment with….

         When our robot encounters an obstacle such as a wall or table leg, it….

         A navigational error by our robot will be defined as….

         To safely carry out our investigation, we will….

 

Record Data and Observations

Record and organize your observations using detailed drawings or photographs and descriptions. The table below is one way to organize your time data.

 

Summary of How Our Robot Moved Through Our Maze

Trial

Number of Errors

Time (seconds) It Took the Robot to Finish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make a Claim Backed by Evidence

Analyze your results and then make one or more claims based on the evidence you observed.

 

My Evidence

My Claim

My Reason

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(page 10)


Compare Findings

Text Box: Focused Inquiry Guide continuedReview the video and discuss your results with classmates who made the same or similar robots or mazes or with classmates who made different robots or mazes. Or do research on the Internet or talk with an expert to find out more about robots and motion planning. How do your findings compare? Be sure to give credit to others when you use their findings in your comparisons.

         My findings are similar to (or different from) those of the experts in the video in that….

         My findings are similar to (or different from) those of my classmates in that….

         My findings are similar to (or different from) information I found on the Internet in that….

 

Reflect on Learning

Think about what you found out. How does it fit with what you already knew? How does it change what you thought you knew?

         My ideas about this topic changed in the following ways….

         When thinking about the claims made by the experts, I am confused about....

         One part of the investigation I am most proud of is….

         Another investigation I would like to try is….

 

 

 

(page11)

 


 

Copy Master: Assessment Rubric for Inquiry Investigations

 

 

Criteria

1 point

2 points

3 points

Initial question

Question had a yes/no answer, was off topic, or otherwise was not researchable or testable.

Question was researchable or testable but too broad or not answerable by the chosen investigation.

Question clearly stated, researchable or testable, and showed direct relationship to investigation.

Investigation design

The design of the investigation did not support a response to the initial question.

While the design supported the initial question, the procedure used to collect data (e.g., number of trials, or control of variables) was not sufficient.

Variables were clearly identified and controlled as needed with steps and trials that resulted in data that could be used to answer the question.

Variables

Either the dependent or independent variable was not identified.

While the dependent and independent variables were identified, no controls were present.

Variables identified and controlled in a way that results in data that can be analyzed and compared.

Safety procedures

Basic laboratory safety procedures were followed, but practices specific to the activity were not identified.

Some, but not all, of the safety equipment was used and only some safe practices needed for this investigation were followed.

Appropriate safety equipment used and safe practices adhered to.

Observations and data

Observations were not made or recorded, and data are unreasonable in nature, not recorded, or do not reflect what actually took place during the investigation.

Observations were made, but were not very detailed, or data appear invalid or were not recorded appropriately.

Detailed observations were made and properly recorded and data are plausible and recorded appropriately.

Claim

No claim was made or the claim had no relationship to the evidence used to support it.

Claim was marginally related to evidence from investigation.

Claim was backed by investigative or research evidence.

Findings comparison

Comparison of findings was limited to a description of the initial question.

Comparison of findings was not supported by the data collected.

Comparison of findings included both methodology and data collected by at least one other entity.

Reflection

Student reflection was limited to a description of the procedure used.

Student reflections were not related to the initial question.

Student reflections described at least one impact on thinking.

 

(page 12)

 

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