Friday, November 18, 2011

Middle School Kids with Killer Robots-What could Possibly go Wrong?

There was a time, about a decade back, where combat robots were a big deal.  You remember Battlebots?  For a variety of reasons they are no longer in the public eye, but it should be well noted that the odd folks who built them went on to construct the drones and bomb disposal robots of the 21st century.

Back then I started a basic robotics class for middle schoolers, and here I am in 2011 gearing up for another campaign.  Here in abridged form is the stirring introductory speech I give each year:

"Welcome to Robotics.  I would now like a show of hands.  How many of you took this class to learn about electronics, and design, and material science?"

(A few hands dutifully go up. Slowly)

"Right. OK, who took this class because you think its cool to build machines that pound other machines into smoking rubble?"

(All hands go up with enthusiasm)

"Here is the basic plan.  You will each build a robot.  It will weigh either one pound or three pounds.  You must make weight.  If you show up at the tournament with an enormous 58 pound tank I will not say you can't compete.  I will however say that you can't compete in Earth's gravitational field" (1)

"Other than that the rules are simple.  No flame throwers.  No hand grenades. (2)  And no live animals." (3)

"The end of class tournament will be in January.  Robots will go head to head.  Some people object to a competition where there are Winners and Losers.  This will not be that kind of event."

"Instead there will be Winners and Debris".


(1) I am willing to make an exception.  If you have also constructed the world's first Anti-Gravity generator you are good to go.  I only ask to be invited to your Nobel Prize Acceptance ceremony.

(2) By this I mean you are not to design robots intended to explode and/or burst into flames.  Sometimes this happens by accident.  That is Right, Meet, and Salutary.

(3) Live Plants are OK.  Dead animals in whole or part would be legal.  A taxidermy chipmunk would get you some serious favoritism from the judges.

Periodic updates from now to late January


J.K. Dane said...

As a former neighbor I would like to point out that none of these rules applied to robotic events put on in the alley. No fair crushing those Middle Schoolers creativity!

Tacitus2 said...

Well, JKD, my first reaction is that you really are rather observant. But then I realized that clouds of acrid smoke are exactly the sort of thing you do want your neighbors to notice!

The joint ain't been the same without you, and I was so looking forward to having your kids in the class in due course of time.


Honeybee said...

As one who has stood by and mused upon the suspected trajectory of a trash can being ripped apart and possibly sent air born by one of Tacitus2's robots, I say let the kids strive for whatever mayhem they can unleash! Also, know a good ER doc who's standing in the wings to help.

rewinn said...

Is it too picky to query the rules w/r/t a robot exploiting the difference between weight and mass, e.g. a robot consisting of a balloon displacing 50 pounds, hefting a 50-pound anvil, towed into position by a 1-pound ground-based robot tractor?