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Sensors and Actuators

Modified 5 days ago by Dev Ramesh

Student version

Hardware - Unassembled drone kit

Previous lesson - N/A

Knowledge -

  • Basic components of robot hardware and software

  • Your specific drone’s sensors and actuators

  • How the sensors and actuators interact to achieve stable flight

Skills -

  • The ability to identify all of the sensors and actuators of your drone

Lesson 1: Anatomy of a Robot

Modified 2020-07-13 by Peyton Strong

STANDARDS: Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

Modified 2020-08-09 by Peyton Strong

NGSS: HS - PS4 - 5: Communicate technical information about how some technological devices use the principles of wave behavior and wave interactions with matter to transmit and capture information and energy.

ISTE: 1. d.: Understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use and troubleshoot current technologies and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.

Assessments and Evidence of Understanding

Modified 2020-08-09 by Peyton Strong

By the end of this lesson, students should be able to describe the basic components of a robot and identify every part in their drone kit.

AGENDA (Brief Summary of Activities)

Modified 2020-08-09 by Peyton Strong

15 min: Discussion questions about robot anatomy

35 min: Learn drone parts with worksheet activity

10 min: Game to assess ability to identify drone parts

Differentiation (strategies for grouping, ELL, and inclusion)

Modified 2020-04-16 by Garrett Warren

Advanced preparation/Materials/Set Up (Including Misconceptions)

Modified 2020-08-10 by Peyton Strong

Teacher Materials:

The drone kit, worksheets printed out

Classroom Set Up:

The students’ drone kits can be placed at their desks before class


Modified 2020-04-16 by Garrett Warren

Introducing The Lesson

Modified 2020-08-10 by Peyton Strong


Before students start building their drone, they need to be able to identify all of the components in their drone kit and, on a surface level, understand how they interact with each other. Even though these parts are specific to our drone, every robot has some combination of sensors, actuators, and controllers to accomplish their goal. Emphasize that, by the end of this class, this pile of parts will be a working drone, and knowing what the parts are is the first step to accomplishing that.

  1. Introduce Important Vocabulary:

Definitions found in the student book here.

  1. Class Discussion Questions:

This is an optional discussion based on the engagement of your class. If this seems too basic, feel free to skip through the introduction.

What sensors to humans have to percieve the world around them?

Eyes, ears, nose, taste buds, sense of touch, etc.

What types of robots would need the same sensors you have?

Example: Self driving cars would need to see the road like your eyes do. (answers will vary)

What actuators do humans have to act on the world around them?

Arms, legs, fingers, muscles, etc.

How might these actuators and sensors combine (either on a human or robot) to create a more complex movement or action?

Example: Our nose might smell something we want to walk towards, but we still have to use our eyes to make sure we aren’t bumping into anything on the way. The input from our nose and eyes influence how and where our legs move to walk us towards the smell. (answers will vary)

What are the controllers that humans have to combine input and control action?

The brain, spinal cord, control loops (handle reflexes, homeostasis, blood flow etc. based on outside information without having to conciosly think about it)

Main Lesson

Modified 2020-08-25 by Peyton Strong

Go through each of the Sensors, Actuators, and Controllers in the drone kit while having students take out each part and lay them out on their desk.

Students can use this graphic organizer to fill in the name, type, and purpose of each part.

The student book has simple definitions of drone parts to get a basic understanding. Everything will be described in greater detail later in the book.

Exercise: While discussing propellers in the actuators portion, ask your students to identify which of their propellers are clockwise and which are counterclockwise using the arrows. Have them think critically about which propellers would have to be attached to which arm and spin when trying to preform different flying tasks (ex. flying up and straight, flying to the right without losing hight, etc.). If helpful, students could use this diagram to draw on and visualize the motion of the motors and propellers.

The way the propellers spin to maneuver the drone the way we want them to is actually pretty complicated. If you want to get into it in full detail with your students, there are four short youtube videos linked down below that explain flight in more detail.

Ending The Lesson

Modified 2020-08-25 by Peyton Strong

  • Make sure that your students can identify every part of the drone, so they aren’t confused on vocabulary during the build.

Exercise: The teacher can call out the name of a part and see which student can grab theirs first. You could also have them sort all of their parts into groups (actuators, sensors, controllers, and other) on their desk.

Exercise: The teacher could also hold up a part or show a picture of a part on the screen, and the students could raise their hand to say (or write down):

  1. The name of the component (no acronyms)

  2. Whether it is an actuator, sensor or controller

  3. What that device does

  4. How it functions (might not be covered indepth)

  5. What does it interface with

Teacher should make sure the students understand that all of these components are just building blocks that can be put together to build a drone, but that can also be used in robotics to accomplish a multitude of tasks.

Journal activity: Have your students come up with another use for a part or combination of parts that would allow a robot to do something other than fly a drone. Encourage them to use the vocabulary from this lesson in their responses.

Useful Resources and References

  1. Explanation of Drone Flight Dynamics

  2. Omnicoptor Flight Dynamic Video

  3. Flying Machine TED Talk Video

  4. Aggressive Flight Video

  5. Quadcopter TED Talk Video