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Boy Scouts can now earn robotics merit badge

While Boy Scouts will continue to master camping, swimming, canoeing, and first aid, they can now add robot-building to the long list of coveted Scout skills.

Robotics merit badge
The merit badge features NASA's Mars Rover.
Boy Scouts of America

Sure, Bobby Boy Scout can tie a square knot and start a fire using flint and steel, but can he build a robot? If so, he'll now be able to sew a robotics merit badge to his sash.

The badge is part of the Boy Scouts of America's new STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum. One of 31 STEM-related merit badges, it's a nod to robots' increasingly wide-reaching impact and part of the BSA's ongoing attempt to teach its ranks relevant skills.

"While the guiding principles of scouting--service to others, leadership, personal achievement, and respect for the outdoors--will never change, we continue to adapt programs to prepare young people for success in all areas of life," BSA Chief Scout Executive Bob Mazzuca said in a statement.

Earning the bot badge will mean a scout not only has a handle on actuators, sensors, and programming, but on the myriad ways robots are tightening their metallic grip.

To earn the badge, scouts must, among other robot-related requirements (PDF): design, build, program, and test a robot; demonstrate the bot and share their engineering notes; attend a robotics competition or do research on robotics contests; and explain how robots are used today. For many young scouts, that probably won't be hard, given that they're growing up in a world where bots are being used to do everything from perform surgery and assist in disaster rescue to clean floors, mow lawns, and massage aching backs.

It took the Boy Scouts of America about 14 months to develop the badge with input from organizations including iRobot, Vex Robotics, and Boston's Museum of Science, some of which could one day end up hiring the budding roboticists. Other participants were Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy and NASA, which says it will bring 100 badges into space on the Endeavour shuttle mission.

Scouts will be expected to spend about 14 hours meeting the requirements for the robotics badge, and the Boy Scouts of America projects that more than 10,000 of the nation's 2.7 million Boy Scouts will earn one in the badge's inaugural year. Which means Boy Scouts may very well become the driving force behind the robot apocalypse.