Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Further into the Robotic Abyss-The Advanced Class

With the final bits of debris from Machines Behaving Badly re-entering earth's orbit I can stand down from helping 24 kids built small robots out of servos, and old plywood, and styrofoam.  And give myself a few well deserved days off before starting up the Advanced Class.

I have done the basic class for 12 years now, on occasion running two classes in one year.  But the Advanced class is a different breed of cat.  This is year five, so it corresponds to my dropping out of the conventional working world and becoming a freelancer.  As such it is driven by my curiosity and sustained by my flexible schedule.

I have a privacy policy that means I do not show photos of my students.  But I can make exceptions here and there, as middle school kids change so quickly that pix from a few years back no longer resemble the lads* in the least.  Also, the two projects I am highlighting made some local TV and newspaper coverage and are in theory already out there somewhere.

This is SUMO a 30 pound combat robot built from Barbie Jeep gearboxes, old cabinet parts and a snow shovel.  We took it to a competition at the Mall of America and actually won a few matches.  A final-post combat-photo:

This was rather fun.  I also do some MC work at these things which would surprise anyone familiar with my default "taciturn" mode.  Immediately on conclusion of the event I got on a plane to go digging in England.


Here is a happy bunch of roboteers with a lunch delivery rover.  Basic parts include somebody's old red wagon, more Barby Jeep gearboxes, a linear actuator from a satellite TV dish, an old music stand and a small wireless video camera.  In theory this allowed delivery of lunch to the Assistant Principle while the kids were at a distant "Mission Control" (note the tv behind them).  Kind of like the Mars Rover that inspired it.  In practice the range of wireless video cameras is rather limited in a building full of brick, metal and EM noise.  We also needed to make the machine a little narrower, we dinged the office door frame on the way in.  oops.


There are advantages to being a volunteer, and to having no formal training in Education.  It gives me the freedom to do a class, or not, depending on whether I get an amusing idea for one.  This was the year it almost did not happen.  But 'round about Christmas I thought, hmmm, might it be fun to take two full sized Kiddy Cars, put them under remote control and have a Grand Prix Race through the middle school halls at lunchtime?  Well, yes, yes it would. 

So we did.  Two Jeeps, similar power and electronics, variations in mechanical drive control.  Each unit had to have a few silly gimmicks.  One had a confetti cannon made from an old portable vacuum cleaner.  The other a water sprayer from a standard automotive windshield wiper squirter.  We raced at each of the three lunch periods.  The unit with tank steering prevailed 2-1 over the less efficient machine where we just kept the original steering wheel and drove it off a pulley.  (too much slop in the steering, kept hitting walls.  oops redux.).

And of course at the finish line the same Assistant Principle got sprayed with water and/or confetti.

I have briefly posted on the 2011 project  Robotics April Fools.

Ah, and for 2012 I have an interesting project in mind.  The course announcement encourages students to show up prepared to work hard, and to spend some time staring at vending machines......

*One female student in the Advanced class in its first four incarnations.  Probably the best student I have had yet.  She will go far.

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