Wednesday, November 11, 2015

FIRST Robotics - A Practice Run.

Well, alright.  With a variety of things falling into place all at once it was clearly time to start a FIRST Robotics team at our high school.

We have a pool of students from the ongoing middle school robotics programs.  We have a great work space.  We have funding, albeit on a somewhat spartan level so far.  But compared to what has been possible at the middle school level with much less, it should suffice.

But how do you know if you have a realistic shot at pulling off a rather complicated program?  Or to put it another way, the parts look good but is the sum of them more or less than expected?

So we had a "Mock Challenge".

The FIRST competition involves robots working together in a team setting.  They have limited time to perform complex tasks using a scoring system that allows considerable variation in how one approaches it.  The robots have to be built with a specified, provided "kit of parts" and are constructed entirely in a six week build season.

So on a Saturday we got the recruits together.  A hoard of robotics components was dumped in front of them.  The "game" involved robots stocking a grocery store with variable points allowed for different sized and weighted items, and for putting things up onto the higher shelves.  Instead of six weeks we gave them four hours to build a pair of machines.  This seems fair, we used a lot of scrap lumber and duct tape, and many of the components were already partially assembled from prior middle school projects.  Besides, this is more an exercise in how they work together and solve problems than a real attempt at building top notch machines.  That will come later....

A lot of things happened.

The Media and Graphics group created logos for our early sponsors and filmed a "demo reel" video for future ones.

The Software group murmured digitally in 1's and 0's, speaking in cybernetic tongues alien to me.

And the Build team built two machines, each with their own solution to the grocery shelf stocking challenge.  Here are some pictures.

Quite a lot of work going on.

This is the grocery shelf where the robots tried to pick items up.

Oops. The box of macaroni and cheese is hitting the deck.  The egg already is down for the count. The can of soup is looking good so far, but too many items got dropped once they were well on their way to the destination shelves.

The above robot used a noose type grabber.  The second machine had a movable set of grippers.

Until they broke of course.  A magnet was swapped in.  Worked well for canned goods.  Paper towels, not so much.

Ha! A can of soup makes it onto the fourth shelf!

Robots can't entirely be trusted.  An attempt at cell phone theft.

A fun session, I think the students show promise.  Of course building with plywood and duct tape is one thing.  We will have to wait and see how they do with the serious build.  And lets hope their driving skills improve!

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