Monday, July 23, 2012

Because the Robot Apocalypse Requires Planning

As I have discussed at some length, I teach a middle school robotics class every year.  As this is on a volunteer basis the main reward is my own amusement, so I try and do something a little different each year.

The basic class will be in the fall as usual, and because it is chaos on an industrial scale there is less room for innovation.  Two dozen 1 to 3 pound machines will tear each other to shreds in the name of technology education.

But I also do an Advanced Robotics class with a smaller group.  Each year I pick a different project, and atypically I have actually been thinking on this matter many months ahead.

The projects so far:
1. 30 pound combat robot, back when there was a tournament for these things not so far away.
2. Video controlled Rover bot that delivered a lunch tray to the Assistant Principle
3. RC controlled full sized Barby Jeeps running a Grand Prix race in the hallways.  Lights, sirens, water and confetti projectors.
4. Assorted remotely activated April Fools pranks, including the infamous "Kid banging to get out of a locker".
5. And of course this year's rather ambitious semi-humanoid robot that wandered the cafeteria dispensing M & Ms and squirting water at people.

So, what to do next.

The parameters are a minimal budget.  Maybe a hundred bucks or so.  Most of the tools and components are already on hand.  No more than 24 volts DC current, maybe 30 amps.  That's the max my speed controllers will handle.  Fun.  Educational.  Not overtly dangerous.  No video cameras visiting inappropriate locations. 

Beyond that I have been surprised that the Administration has been supportive of all manner of nonsense.

Here are a few things I have considered, and if you are browsing around and read this please feel free to vote and/or to suggest other projects.

1. Pyramid explorer.  I have been interested in the use of remote cameras carried into spaces too narrow for archeologists to physically enter.  I figure something with tank treads could be built to haul the video camera from my Aqua Vu fish cam around.  Maybe into those spaces above the false ceilings in the school?  Or perhaps I could find a convenient nearby sewer.  I really like to take on a project that has never been done before, and I am pretty sure that a middle school sewer exploration vehicle would qualify.

2. I wonder if you could get a weather balloon full of helium and launch some kind of instrument package.  Aerial photos every 1000 feet perhaps?  Actually, I have no doubt this could be launched, it is the recovery that would be an issue.  And are there laws about dropping things from really high up?  There probably should be.

3. Robot dragster.  At 24 volts we could get some serious RPMs out of a couple of Ford Taurus fan motors I happen to have sitting around.  We could gear them down an bit and likely get a vehicle that could do 20 to 25 mph.  Radio controlled of course.  I know where to get an open track and a radar gun.....but I should think controlling it at those speeds would be nigh on impossible.

4. Underwater ROV.  I was stuck in a hotel room a while back, my plans having been messed up by British train schedules.  So I ended up-for lack of anything else-watching Titanic for the first time.  I really like those camera equipped underwater remote operated vehicles.  Yes, I can see this working out.  PVC pipe structure, Aqua Vu for camera, pond pumps for water jets, maybe a system to adjust bouyancy by pumping air in and out of a resevoir.  This could totally work, but it would involve getting delicate electronics as well as myself too darned close to the middle school pool.  I suspect there is not a middle schooler on earth able to entirely resist the urge to push me in after a successful test....



JC said...

Check out Randall Monroe's ROV sub. You know the guy, he's the one who draws XKCD. The details are in his blag (IRRC).

Tacitus2 said...

Did see that....potential there. Did not know about the XKCD connection though.