Open Roberta Lab: A better way to program your EV3?

open robertaThe Open Roberta Lab project provides a free cloud-based platform to program the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 using the Scratch like Blockly-library from Google. It appears to be very much like Enchanting for the EV3.

I’ve long been a fan of Enchanting for programming LEGO Robotics, largely because I hate the NXT programming interface. There are far too many fiddly lines that require manual dexterity rather than programming nous and it’s remarkably unintuitive for an interface aimed at teaching. The EV3 version is an improvement, but it’s still far from ideal.

Enchanting stepped things up a whole level by using Scratch to do the programming for your robot. Simple, intuitive and building on something students are already working with. The problem with Enchanting is that it is basically driven by one committed person who is also juggling a real life – as a result its development has not been all that could be wished for and it does not work with the EV3.

Open Roberta appears to share much of the philosophy behind Enchanting, but it works with the EV3 and seems to be backed by a larger open-source development team as well as two significant commercial organisations.

The Open Roberta project continues the Fraunhofer-Initiative »Roberta – Learning with Robots«. For more than ten years, this initiative enabled girls and boys to explore the world of robots and to learn about computer science, natural sciences and technology (STEM). The aim of Open Roberta is to overcome technical and professional barriers for teachers and students alike. The free cloud-based Platform »Open Roberta Lab” can be used at any time from any device using standard Internet browsers.

A variety of different programming blocks are provided to program motors, sensors and the EV3 Brick. Open Roberta Lab’s graphical programming approach means beginners can jump in and seamlessly start coding. As a cloud-based application, the platform can be used without prior installation of specific software – it runs in any popular browser, independent of operating system and device. There is also talk of extending Open Roberta beyond the EV3.

Now, while Open Roberta looks really interesting, a few words of warning. Most significantly – it’s all in German at the moment. There’s a veneer of English on the website, but the backing documentation and, most importantly, the cloud platform are in German at the moment. As this is a joint initiative with Google, there’s more than hope that that will change over time – but it isn’t something you can run out and use tomorrow.

That said, to my mind it’s a tribute to the simplicity of the whole approach that even in German you can use Open Roberta and work out what the blocks are for. I wouldn’t be throwing that at students, but as an adult you can certainly have a go. And it’s worth having a play, because Open Roberta, or something like it, is clearly the direction in which teaching with robots is headed in.

For all the details see the Open Roberta website.

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