Programming Tutorial(Back to Project Description)
               Robolab is a powerful new technology that lets students construct and program robots. This
                page will describe:
The Programming Process
Programming Icons and their Functions
Downloading Programs
Teaching Tips for Programming in the Classroom

               Instead of having computers teach children, Robolab's programing
                      capabilities enable students to teach computers!
S.Papert (creator)

First students will build robots using Lego blocks and pieces (including gears, pulleys and motors). Students will build the RCX box within their robot construction.
RCX programmable LEGO Brick

The RCX box, which stands for the Robotics Command System, is a microcomputer,built into a LEGO brick.  The RCX is the brain that controls the movements of the robotsstudents build.  You can program the RCX using your PC, and transferring the information via the inferred tower.

                        The RCX has three Input ports(1-3) and three output ports(A-C), as well as a speaker to
                        produce beeps and tones. The RCX also has three internal sensors including a counter
                        which records events, a timer and a message holder to receive messages sent form other
                        RCX units. (Mindstorms Inventions User Guide)  (Back to Top)
INPUT ports(1,2 &3: grey strip).  Receives information from sensors (including light and touch sensors).

OUTPUT ports(A,B&C: black strip). Provides electricity for motors and lights.

                            Once Students DESIGN and BUILD their robots they can program them to create
                          behaviours and to perform tasks.

Robolab is an icon driven program that is extremely user friendly.  We suggest that students use the INVENTOR program for basic
programming and the INVESTIGATOR program for data collection.
(We feel the beginner program PILOT is too basic and limited).

                            The Programming Process    (Back to Top)
                          -This Nasa Learning site gives the details behind the steps taken in programming.

                                A program is essentially a list of commands for the robot to follow. Programming is very logical in
                          nature, however one must be explicit with every step. The most important element in
                          programming to remember, is to finish everything you start.

                          Each program needs to be initiated with a start icon .

                          Each program must be completed with a stop icon .  (These will always appear on the screen).

Start and Stop 

Motors(forwards and
backwards), lights, beeps,
reverse and stop commands
for OUTPUT ports

Sub-Menus (WaitFors,
Loops, Modifiers,
Counters, and Mail).

The FUNCTIONS PALETTE can be found under the WINDOWS pull down.  It contains the majority of programming icons you will need. To access an icon you simply need to click on the desired icon and drag in onto the screen. The bottom green icons with horizontal arrows contain sub-menus.  In this example the Waitfor and Sensors sub-menu is revealed.

The Green bottom icons with horizontal arrows can be opened up to reveal sub-menus.  The MUSIC sub-menu offers 12 notes, a pause signature, along with duration and octave modifers.

MODIFIERS (diamond shaped icons): are connected below the programming element they are modifying.

The main program screen looks like this.  Programs are created by dragging individual icons over from the functions palette onto the screen.

Click here to see an animated example of this process.

Once on the screen, the icons can be shifted and moved anywhere you desire.  To DELETE an icon, you simply need to click on it once until you see a black and white border around it, then hit delete.

If you do not understand an icon, simply click on it, and an explanations of its functions will appear.

                                Programming Icons and Their Functions   (Back to Top)
                          -This link provides clear and detailed explanations of most of the programming elements.


A TOOLS PALETTE can be selected from the WINDOWS pull down, which can change the function of the mouse pointer.  A spool of thread can be selected in order to string the elements of the program together.  (Tools can also be changed by pushing the space bar).
In the above image note the pink wire (string) which links the programming elements together.  These wires need to be intacnt for the program to run.  Bad wires will identify themselves by turning black and white.  To remove bad wires simply press <Control B>, or UNDO BAD WIRES under the EDIT pull-down

MODIFIERS (diamonds) are connected to the bottom of the programming element they are adapting.  These wires will be blue, green or brown depending on the type of modifer.

It is essential that you specify which ports you are programming (ie. motor A or touch sensor 3).

The top right diamonds change the power level of the motors and lights.

The rectangular box can be used to specify values or numbers. (ie Loop 5 times, wait 23 minutes, light value of 40).

                            When connecting Programming Icons, it is important that you wire them from the END target to
                          the BEGIN target of the next icon. To do so press the LEFT MOUSE KEY on the END target and hold
                          it down until the BEGIN target of the next icon appears.


                          You can program your robot to do many different things independently at the same time. To do so,
                          you need to split the program wire into a new chain of commands.

                          To initiate a new task connect the program wire to   the multitask icon.  You can continue the
                          program string from its two branches.  You may branch your program as many times as you like.
                          However you must add additional  end functions to complete the extra tasks.

                         Samples of Robolab Programs
                          -This site offers many examples of robolab programs using a variety of programming elements
                          including jumps, loops, containers, beeps and more. It is a very good ideas to check some of these

                            Downloading Programs To The RCX Box (Back to Top)

                               If your program contains no bad wires and it makes logical sense, it can be downloaded to the
                               RCX box.  To check this, look at the ARROW in the upper left corner of the screen.  If it is
                               broken, you have a problem. If you double click on it, a box will appear explaining where the
                               problem is.
                               If the arrow is solid, you are ready to download.

                               Make sure your RCX's infrared is 10-15cm is away from the infrared tower, which should be
                               securely connected to the COM port of your PC.
                               Make sure your RCX box is turned on and SET TO THE PROGRAM NUMBER you desire.
                               Click RUN(arrow).  A message will tell you when the program as finished loading.
                               If there is a problem a schematic will show you where the error is occurring.

                            Teacher Tips for Programming  (Back to Top)

                          1. Robolab software should be installed on classroom computers and available to
                          students during all robotics periods to program.

                          Testing and Re-programming to debug programs is an essential process in the problem
                          solving objectives of this unit.

                          2. Teachers should give programming tutorials before students begin attempting
                          programming. If students have a basic understanding of the program they will be more
                          equipped to explore independently. Visuals should be used when explaining the
                          program, as it will help children to understand and recognize the program better.
                          Projecting the program on a screen or Smart Board can be very effective.  The Smart
                          Board can enable the students to try moving the icons around.

                          3.  If computers are limited, students can write out ideas for their program before they
                          go to the terminal.  Teachers can print the icons with a colour printer and mount and
                          laminate them on magnetized backings, so that students can practise physically
                          manipulating their program before they go to the terminal.

                          4. Remind students not to cover the infrared strip on the RCX box for it needs to be
                          exposed in order to receive programming.

                          5. Have students save their programs, so that they can come back to them to make

                          6. When children present their robots, have them print off a copy of their robots, to help
                          them explain their process.

                          7. If a student does not understand an icon, double click on it, and a description will
                          appear in a text box.  (This will also reveal default settings).

Back to

                       Thank you to the site for many of
                       the symbols.