Computer-Aided Design of Mechanical Automata: Engineering Education for Children

G. Blauvelt and M. Eisenberg (USA)


Instructional Technology, Engineering Education, MachineShop, Automata.


With decreasing numbers of engineers graduating from undergraduate institutions in the United States, the importance of developing children’s interests in engineering is increasingly apparent. In this paper we discuss an approach to engineering education based upon the design of mechanical toys and automata. In implementing this approach we have created a software system, MachineShop, for the design of automata; MachineShop facilitates the design of mechanical elements, and their fabrication in wood or plastic on a desktop laser cutter. In this paper, we describe both our software and its place in a larger portrait of engineering education. We also present a case study highlighting the design process of one ten year old student as he designed and constructed his first mechanical automaton, and draw some general observations from our ongoing testing with children in elementary and middle schools.

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