Desperately Seeking Robotics Simulation Platform

Due to a series of very strange circumstances, I have been asked to teach two 3-hour lab sessions on “some or any topic in engineering” at a community college with less than a week’s notice. In non-COVID times, I would buy a dozen Arduino kits from Amazon (24 students) and have them build a few simple pre-made projects using sample code and “cook-book” circuit diagrams. But COVID makes this “hands-on” class via Zoom take on a whole new dimension. There are no prerequisites for the class, so most won’t have taken any programming or passed any math prerequisites.

So my next thought was robotics simulations, but I’m not familiar with any of the software on the market. Do you know of any that fits the bill for the population above? Free software (or free trial) is preferable. Easy to learn (for myself as well as the students). It doesn’t need to be deep – I just need to fill 6 hours with some meaningful hands-on learning. And I need to be able to get far enough along the learning curve before next Friday that I can actually help the students with trouble-shooting. Which means, hopefully, not too many troubles.

I’m also open to a starter programming tutorial (the type you’d give to a 10-year-old kid), or anything else that can be done online. Ideally, I’d give a lecture, and demo, then the students would work on their own and complete a project, even if it’s just copying a project that’s already done with some small modifications (e.g., change a blinking light program to blink slower or using different colors).


Since you are asking on vexforum - it is obligatory to mention VEXcode VR . It is targeted for Vex IQ age group and has plenty of built in tutorials, activities, and resources at stemlabs.

The next step logical step would be to search for a Free Arduino Emulator and this looks like a very interesting list:

If there is nothing suitable on that list, another option would be to try to utilize a piece of electronics that virtually everyone already has - their smart phones.

For example, to make a bridge between the physical world and their own software, they could try to write a simple program that does something interesting with the built-in accelerometer or gyro sensors:

Also, a phone could drive servos through audio output, but that requires additional hardware so probably not an option.


I don’t know if you will be able to do much better than Autodesk Tinkercad under those circumstances. You can use it to do some basic simulations of Arduino circuits, including programming.


These are great ideas! I’ll probably spend Week 1 on coding using Week 2, I’ll introduce Arduinos using the Autodesk Tinkercad tutorial, followed with a smartphone/sensor demo. Now I wish I’d been “conscripted” for more weeks! On the other hand, with great online tutorials, who needs a teacher?

BTW, I’m not a fan of the single choice “Solution” option. Many problems have more than one solution, including this one.


A quick follow-up, now that the classes are almost done.

Just as planned, I used the resources above for the first 2 weeks. Both weeks went well – I think the programming tutorial was more predictable, as it was more structured. But there were lots of exclamations of, “This is sick” while they were playing with Arduino components. They liked the emulator’s unlimited number of cool parts, like photoresistors and RGB LED’s. It took a bit to find out how to get to the “real” code, but once the students saw it, they had more respect for the Tinkercad platform.

I was assigned a 3rd week, and the permanent instructor will be teaching robotics, so I decided to go with a sound editing demo using Goldwave. The software is primarily intended for people who, well, want to edit sounds and music. But there’s a fair bit of deep math (Fast Fourier Transforms) embedded in some of the options, which makes a great tool for connecting the math and the engineering. The students are just expected to record a sound and make certain modifications to it, showing a time and frequency maps, which is especially fun with speech sounds.