Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Colin Lewis lays out the case for using robots as a means of equipping people with essential problem-solving skills for the workplace.
Telecommunications company Ericsson turned some heads during an event at Mobile World Congress in 2012 by having various Lego Mindstorms robots wander around and do things. Mindstorms are a robotics kit developed at MIT Media Lab in the 1990s, and they make it relatively easy to build robotic systems outfitted with wheels and sensors for accomplishing a number of things. In the video from Ericsson’s event (embedded below), you can see that the robots pick up discarded cups, water plants, and even organise socks by colour.
Lewis offers the example of building robots that can crawl through a maze in a given amount of time. While everyone works on the same problem, they will come up with different approaches, all using the same resources that everyone else has at his or her disposal.
Mindstorms came into being because of Professor Seymour Papert, a co-founder of MIT Media Lab alongside noted artificial intelligence expert Marvin Minsky. Papert’s research indicates that training programs that have participants build robotics projects together can hone people into creative problem solvers who keep an eye on the goal at hand. Writes Lewis:
[T]raining programs using robotics influences participants’ ability to learn numerous essential skills, especially creativity, critical thinking, and learning to learn or “metacognition.” They also emphasise important approaches to modern work, like collaboration and communication. This form of learning is called constructionism, and it is premised on the idea that people learn by actively constructing new knowledge, not by having information “poured” into their heads. Moreover, constructionism asserts that people learn with particular effectiveness when they are engaged in “constructing” personally meaningful artifacts. People don’t get ideas; they make them.
Legos make a perfect baseline for teambuilding exercises like this — even if you never played with them as a child, you know what they are and how they work, and the programming basics can be learned pretty quickly. After you really develop some skills, you might build some robots like those that Ericsson showed off at MWC:
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