Boy Scouts of America's National Council Unveils New Robotics Badge

robotics_badge.jpgA staple of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) program, merit badges are awards that have been around for nearly 100 years. And the National Council, a corporate membership made up of both paid professional Scouters and volunteer Scouters, takes them very seriously. The group meets once a year to review and update the badges, each of which has its own accompanying pamplet that contains information on badge requirements.

So popular are those tiny discs of cloth that the idea of badges has carried over into the virtual world -- and outside of the scouting program. Today, millions of people check in to locations on Foursquare in part because they want to earn digital badges that closely resemble the traditional circle badge we've all seen sewn across a Scouts' chest.

Today, there are more than 120 different Boy Scouts badges, including ones for camping, cycling, surveying, hiking, coin collecting, swimming, railroading, golf, leatherwork, Indian lore, geology, and more. But many of them are outdated, as that list, a representative sample, clearly indicates. In an effort to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the National Council, on Tuesday, April 12, will formally announce a new badge for 2011 that pushes the Boy Scouts in a new direction. To earn the Robotics badge, a scout will need to demonstrate knowledge of robot construction and programming.

"Last century, camping was an essential survival skill. Sometimes, you might have had to live outside in the 1900s to survive. We view STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) as an essential survival skill in the 21st century," Matt Myer, who oversees the Boy Scouts' STEM initiative, told CBS News. "We're just trying to keep relevant with what kids need to learn."

Here's how the Boy Scouts describe the badge:

Earning the Robotics merit badge requires a Scout to understand how robots move (actuators), sense the environment (sensors), and understand what to do (programming); he should demonstrate robot design in building a robot. You should help ensure that the Scout has sufficiently explored the field of robotics to understand what it is about, and to discover whether this may be a field of interest for him as a career.

The image seen at the center of the badge is a depiction of NASA's Mars rover. One hundred of the new badges will be carried into space and back aboard Endeavour during its final shuttle mission. They will be distributed to the winners of an online contest.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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