SCIENCE OF INNOVATION: Self-Driving Car - A Science Perspective (Grades 6-12)

Objective:


SCIENCE OF INNOVATION: Self-Driving Car - A Science Perspective (Grades 6-12)


Introduction Notes:


Science of innovation

Self-Driving Cars

A Science 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

        PS2.A: Forces and Motion

        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

         Using the Design Investigations section of Facilitate Inquiry as a guide, encourage students to investigate how a typical laser range finder (LIDAR) or radar device determines the distance between it and another object.

         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 use their findings to make connections to how the self-driving car locates and detects objects.

         Interested students might also explore how learning from a decision tree differs from neural networks. The video makes the point that the Google car isn't about using a decision tree alone, it is learning from analyzing data, previous experience, and recognizing patterns from measured or observed data taken by the devices in the car.

         Explain that the optimum design of any innovation is usually one in which compromises have been made. Have students brainstorm to come up with a list of possible compromises related to a self-driving car. For example, some students might argue that safety could be compromised because the sensor-based system in a vehicle that is surrounded by tall buildings or inside tunnels might not be capable of “seeing” all of the objects around it or understand how the objects are likely to react. Wrap up the discussion by explaining that engineers are often faced with the difficult challenge of compromising the overall design or function of a product at the expense of other attributes.

 

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 10.

 

Explore Understanding

Introduce this video by recounting one of your own near misses or fender benders and why it could have happened: you or the other driver was distracted, misjudged distance, or was confused about who had the right of way at an intersection or traffic light. You might have students relay their own personal experiences behind the wheel of a car or other vehicle such as a bicycle, motorized skateboard, or four-wheeler ATV. Then have students construct a list of driver-controlled parts of a typical car, including the steering wheel, turn signals, accelerator, and brake. Have them describe how some parts potentially might be better controlled by a computer. Spark students’ thinking with prompts such as the following.

         The purpose of a car's steering wheel, turn signals, accelerator or brake pedal is to....

         To make decisions while driving, a driver collects data about his/her surroundings by….

         Self-driving cars might be safer than cars with human drivers because….

 

Show the video SOI: Self-Driving Cars and encourage students to jot down notes while they watch. Continue the discussion of how the parts of a traditional car are used by a driver as he/she makes decisions to accelerate, change lanes, turn, stop or slow down.

Introduce some of the external devices used by Google’s self-driving car to interpret its surroundings, using prompts such as the following:

(page 3)

 

         When I watched the video, I thought about….

         The experts in the video claimed that _____ because….

         On the basis of the video’s description, I think artificial intelligence is….

         Some of the devices used by the self-driving car to gather information include….

         The information and data collected are useful for guiding the car and making decisions that are safe for passengers by….

         The laser range finder on the roof of the Google car uses light to….

         The radar on the car’s bumper….

         The function of the video cameras in the self-driving car is to….

         The function of the GPS in the self-driving car is to....

 

Ask Beginning Questions

Stimulate small-group discussion with the prompt: This video makes me think about these questions…. Then, have groups list questions they have about how the four main data-gathering devices of Google’s self-driving car work. Ask groups to choose one question and phrase it in such a way as to be researchable and/or testable. The following are some examples.

         How is laser light different from other types of light, such as LEDs?

         How does a radar device work?

         How are wide-angle lenses different from narrow view lenses?

         How does the GPS work?

 

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 use a long wooden skewer, pencil, or chopstick; shoeboxes whose inside bottoms include some sort of surface with a varying topography made from clay; stacks of small books or index cards, or different sized rocks or pieces of polystyrene foam; the lids of the shoeboxes; a grid such as that of graph paper or peg board to tape or place onto the outside of the lids; glue; and a sharp pencil or an awl to punch holes into the lids. Another option is to place three-dimensional foam “mystery” objects on a long skewer and suspend them inside the closed boxes.

 

Students investigating other questions related to those above might use laser pointers, diffraction gratings, different colored LEDs, simple lenses and/or a camera lens with a wide range of focal lengths or a portable GPS device.

 

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

 

 

(page 4)

 

Open Choice Approach(Copy Master page 10)

Groups might come together to agree on one question for which they will explore the answer, or each group might explore something different. Students should brainstorm to form a plan they would have to follow in order to answer the question. Work with students to develop safe procedures that control variables and enable them to make accurate measurements or to make good working models of the devices they are investigating. Encourage students testing variables with prompts such as the following:

         The variable we will test is….

         The variables we will control are….

         The steps we will follow are….

         To conduct our investigation safely, we will….

 

Encourage students making models of the devices with these or similar prompts:

         The device we are modeling is….

         The materials we will use to make our model include….

         Our model is like the actual device in that….

         Our model differs from the actual device in that….

         To conduct our investigation safely, we will….

 

Focused Approach(Copy Master pages 11–12)

The following exemplifies how students might model how a typical laser range finder (LIDAR) or radar device determines the distance between it and another object.

1.      After students examine the materials you have available to model the basic principle behind laser range finders and radar devices, ask questions such as the following to spark their thinking:

         What happens if you drop a bouncy ball from waist height, from above your head, and from near your knees?

         What happens if you drop the ball at an angle?

         Why does the ball bounce differently in these situations?

2.      Students might prepare the shoeboxes by gluing pieces of polystyrene foam of different thicknesses along the inside bottom to create an uneven topography. Give students free rein in how they use the materials to mimic LIDAR. Students might tape a grid onto the outside lid of the box, and then tape the lid in place. Groups might trade boxes or work with their own to pierce holes in the center of each square on the grid or along one of the grid axes, then use a skewer or pencil to measure the depth at each hole. Remind students to subtract the distance where the skewer is inserted from the total length of the skewer in order to obtain the depth. Use the following prompts to guide students in their thinking.

         The materials we will use are….

         We will construct our models by…

         We will work with our models by….

         We will create an uneven surface by….

         We will measure the distance to the bottom of the box at squares on the grid by….

         We will record and organize our data using….

         To conduct our investigation safely, we will….

 

(page 5)

 

3.      Students might use different distances between the holes to emphasize the concept of resolution. As students work, make sure they understand how their models mimic the reflection of waves in an actual LIDAR or radar device using the following or similar prompts:

         At points where the surface is high/low, the skewer….

         The amount of the skewer that is below the box lid represents….

         The relationship between the skewer and the wave is….

         The length of the skewer and size of the grid impacts our results by….

         Our models are similar to range finders and radar devices in that….

         Our models differ from range finders and radar devices in that….

4.      Suggest students make visual models of their data using spreadsheet software. For example, students can put their data in a spreadsheet, selectit, and then convert it to a surface chart. (In an Excel spreadsheet, that is done by clicking on Charts in the menu bar and then choosing Surface. A few representations are available.)

5.      Students might continue their investigations by exploring the science behind some of the other devices used in the self-driving car, including: how the lenses used in video cameras capture light to produce images; how laser light differs from other types of light; how light (including lasers) reflects differently off of smooth and rough surfaces; or how GPS can be used to locate points on Earth via triangulation.

 

Media Research Option

Groups might have questions that are best explored using print media or online resources. Students should brainstorm to form a list of key words and phrases they could use in Internet search engines that might result in resources to help them answer the question. Review how to safely browse the Web, how to evaluate information on the Internet for accuracy, and how to correctly cite the information found. Suggest students make note of any interesting tangents they find in their research effort for future inquiry. Encourage students with prompts such as the following:

         Words and phrases associated with our question are….

         The reliability of our sources was established by….

         The science and math concepts that underpin a possible solution are….

         Our research might feed into an engineering design solution such as….

         To conduct the investigation safely, we will….

 

Make a Claim Backed by Evidence

As students carry out their investigations, ensure they record their observations. As needed, suggest ways they might organize their data using tables or graphs. Students should analyze their data and then make one or more claims based on the evidence their data shows. Encourage students with this prompt: As evidenced by… we claim… because….

 

An example claim might be:  As evidenced by our measurements, we claim that distance affects the time it takes for a surface to reflect a light or sound wave, because more of our probe was visible when it reached the higher points on the box’s bottom than when it reached the lower points on the box’s bottom.

(page 6)

 

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

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

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

 

Students might make comparisons like the following:

My findings are similar to the information on the Internet, because when LIDAR and radar devices like the ones on the self-driving car send out light or radio waves, the time it takes the waves to return to the source can be used to measure the distance between the car and objects near the car.

 

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. Encourage reflection, using prompts such as the following:

         My ideas about this topic have changed because of this evidence….

         One thing I still don’t understand is….

         I wish I had been able to spend more time on….

         Another investigation I would like to try is….

 

Inquiry Assessment

See the rubric included in the student Copy Masters on page 13.

 

 

Incorporate Video into Your Lesson Plan

 

Integrate Video in Instruction

 

Bellringer:  Play the video with the sound muted as students get settled. Write the title of the video on the board and instruct them to write at least three sentences explaining how they think these vehicles might work. Use students’ answers as a lead-in to a lesson on electromagnetic waves and their application to real-life situations.

 

Homework:  Ask students to research how the autopilot mode of an airplane works and use what they find to compare and contrast this with the concept of a self-driving car.  As a class, you might want to discuss whether airplanes, cars, and other types of motor vehicles can ever be truly and independently functional without a human pilot or a driver at the controls.

 

 

(page 7)

 

 

Using the 5E Approach?

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

 

Explore:  After students view the video, have them brainstorm to form a list of objects or processes they may have personally used or encountered in some way that use lasers, lenses, and/or radar. For lasers, students’ responses might include: laser pointers, bar code scanners, CD players, laser light shows at concerts, laser engraving, and laser eye surgery. Students may know that lenses are used in eyeglasses and as contact lenses to improve vision, and in cameras and microscopes to produce images of objects and/or to magnify them. Students might also be familiar with the use of radar by police to detect speeders or the use of Doppler radar in forecasting the weather.

Elaborate:  Have each student choose one of the data-gathering devices on the Google self-driving cars and create a poster to explain how the device works and the science concepts on which it relies.

 

Connect Video to … Language Arts

 

Debate:  Have students work in small groups to find out more about artificial intelligence and some of the ways in which is it currently used. Challenge the class to hold a debate on the topic: Artificial intelligence in technologies such as self-driving cars is superior to that of human intelligence. Divide the class into three teams: one that will argue in favor of the stated topic, one that will argue against it, and one that will act as the audience to hear the various arguments being made by the student groups. Have students work together to arrange ideas for their team’s arguments and for refuting the other team’s arguments. The audience might do research about the topic in order to ask relevant questions.

 

Hold the debate by allowing for arguments and rebuttals, back and forth, until all members of both teams have had the opportunity to speak at least once. When the debate has ended, ask the audience to determine which team “won” and why. Remind students to base their vote on evidence presented in the debate only, not their personal opinion of the topic. Was there one specific argument that convinced them that one team won? Students might use some of the following as springboards for their arguments.

         http://www.aaai.org/home.html

         http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121213111828.htm

         http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121204145559.htm

         http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/24/science/scientists-see-advances-in-deep-learning-a-part-of-artificial-intelligence.html?_r=0

 

 

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.

 

(page 8)

 

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 9)

 


 

Copy Master: Open Choice Inquiry Guide for Students

 

Science of Innovation: Self-Driving Cars

Use this guide to investigate a question about one or more of the main data-gathering devices of a self-driving car. Write your report in your science notebook.

 

Ask Beginning Questions

The video makes me think about these questions….

 

Design Investigations

Choose one question. How can you answer it? Brainstorm with your teammates. Use the prompts below to help focus your thinking.

         The variable we will test is….                               • We will make our model by….

         The variables we will control are…. OR               • Our model is like a _____ in that….

         The steps we will follow are….                             • Our model differs from a _____ because….

         To conduct our investigation safely, we….           • To conduct our investigation safely, we….             

Record Data and Observations

Record your observations. Organize your data in tables or graphs, as appropriate.

 

Make a Claim Backed by Evidence

Analyze your data and then make one or more claims based on the evidence your data shows. Make sure that the claim goes beyond summarizing the relationship between the variables or simply describing your model.

 

My Evidence

My Claim

My Reason

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compare Findings

Review the video and then discuss your results with classmates who investigated the same or a similar question. Or do research on the Internet, or talk to an expert. How do your findings compare? Be sure to give credit to others when you use their findings in your comparisons.

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

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

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

 

Reflect on Learning

Think about your results. How do they fit with what you already knew? How do they change what you thought you knew about the topic?

         My ideas about this topic have changed because of this evidence…

         One thing I still don’t understand is…

         I wish I had been able to spend more time on….

         Another investigation I would like to try is….

(page 10)


 

COPY MASTER: Focused Inquiry Guide for Students

 

Science of Innovation: Self-Driving Cars

Use this guide to investigate a question about how to model the way a laser range finder or radar device works. Write your report in your science notebook.

 

Ask a Beginning Question

How can the way in which a laser range finder or radar device works be modeled?

 

Design Investigations

Brainstorm with your teammates how to answer the question. Decide on one idea and write a procedure that will allow you to gather valid data. Add safety precautions as needed. Use these prompts to help you design your investigation.

         The materials we will use include….

         We will construct our model by….

         We will work with our model by….

         To conduct our investigation safely, we will….

 

Record Data and Observations

Organize your observations and data in a table. The tables below are examples of ways to record your data.

 

Length (mm) of Probe Visible At Grid Points

 

 

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

I

J

1

5.4 cm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Point

Length

(mm)

Point

Length

(mm)

Point

Length

(mm)

Point

Length

(mm)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(page 11)

Graph the Data

Text Box: Focused Inquiry Guide continuedPlot your data on a graph. Remember to give your graph a title.

 

 

 

 

Depth to Bottom

 (mm)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                        Point on Grid

 

 

Make a Claim Backed by Evidence

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

 

My Evidence

My Claim

My Reason

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compare Findings

Review the video and then discuss your results with classmates who investigated the same or a similar question. 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 ideas are similar to (or different from) those of the experts in the video in that….

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

         My ideas are similar to (or different from) those that 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 have changed because of this evidence…

         One thing I still don’t understand is…

         I wish I had been able to spend more time on….

         Another investigation I would like to try is….

(page 12)

 

 

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 13)

 

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