Friday, April 15, 2016

Lunch Room Robot 2016

You would think a semi retired guy would have few constraints on his schedule but that is actually not the case.  I have done a middle school robotics class in the fall for 15 years and an advanced class in the spring on and off for about seven.  The spring class always bumps up against my playing hooky in May.

But I really wanted to do the class as it is the "farm system" that gives us a pool of high schoolers with  robotics experience.  This has been pretty helpful in our FIRST robotics campaign.

So I said I would do it.  Fortunately I have the assistance of some of my high school kids and it is off to a good start.

I decided that it had been a few years since we did the "Lunch Room Robot" project.  This is a roughly human sized machine that is designed to wander around the cafeteria at noon and interact with humans.  We did it four or five years ago and said interaction could take the form of the right arm extending and pouring M and M candies all over lunch tables.  Or the left arm would spritz water at kids.  It was a popular experiment, maybe more so for those favored with the candy.

I had the idea back then of using milk crates as "modules" so that smaller groups of kids could work on systems without getting into each others way.  The robot got rather heavy so this time around we are using plastic crates instead of the sturdy metal ones.  Here's a few build pix, edited as usual to provide some privacy.

If you are ever crazy enough to try and do a program like this I can tell you that the key is not money. It is work and storage space.  I like to spread things out.  Batteries, multimeter, switches, tools.  All lined up for the kids building the electronic control boards that will operate the upper and lower halves of the robot.

It is good to work with smart kids.  That applies to both my students and my student helpers.  I tend to quiz the middle schoolers pretty closely...."are you SURE that is the proper terminal to hook up to?" I really like it when a kid is confident enough to say yes when I am trying to make him question the answer.  Note above that I had supplied some nice new wheels.  The kids found a better way to use some old beat up wheels from a long forgotten project.

It is fun to revisit an old project, to try and do it better the second time around.  But it is rather slow going this time.  Maybe the distractions of FIRST have taken my attention off of things.  Maybe some of the components are getting old and beat up.  You can only ask so much from fifteen year old Barby Jeep parts I suppose.

But the kids are learning things and the work goes on.  We have at least one very promising recruit for the high school crew next year.

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