Friday, November 10, 2017

Machines Behaving Badly - 2017 Edition

On the eve of the 17th Annual Machines Behaving Badly robot event it seems appropriate to muse on where we've been, are, and are heading.

The popularity of the class remains high.  Kids of this age will probably always be enthused about building small combat robots.  But other things have changed.

The level of familiarity with the most basic tools and the simplest construction methods continues to decline.  It has been a full generation now that I have been doing this class.  Time enough for those magnificent Depression/WWII era multi-talented grandfathers (and some Rosie the Riveter grannies) to pass from the scene. Their tools? Sold off cheaply at garage sales.  Their expertise?  Only fragments were passed down to the Baby Boomers who have now become grandparents. And less still to the new generation of parents.  

Now we have an entire new generation of young people whose contact with the world is literally superficial....the interface being the tips of their fingers on the screens of their phones.  Tech savvy?  In a way.  Mechanically ignorant?  Oh, yes.

It is pointless to opine on whether this is good or bad, it simply is the case.  In a practical sense it has been a significant factor in my reluctance to advance the rather basic technology level in the class.  2017 kids struggle with things that a decade ago were accomplished with ease.

And the kids are different in other ways.  Like everywhere else our community is changing.  More fractured households, more chaos.  And all the little stuff.  Food allergies, medications to be aware of.  It seems to be more complicated being a kid in 2017.

But the work goes on.  If this sort of class is "lighting a candle against the darkness" then the fact that it is getting darker makes it more important.  And all the other stuff?  Blustery winds that make the light flicker but not so far falter.

A few pictures on the eve of the mini robot apocalypse.  Not surprisingly a bit of an off year for both creative and efficient machines.

One of our later build sessions happened to be on Halloween.  Kids of course were in costume.  A storm trooper and his robot.

We may not have the most creative robots this year, but darned if we don't have some really big ones.  Of course several are drifting just a bit above that three pound weight limit.  I have become less strict about it in recent years. When one student had drilled five or six holes in something trying to trim off several ounces I just told him "five down, another couple hundred to go...".

Sometimes an impractical design just lingers on until the last minute, only to be replaced by something simpler.  One student had this elaborate plan to build a four wheel drive, low speed, high torque pushing robot with sloped lexan armor.  Making the lexan pieces fit did not work so he just subbed in a cardboard box swathed in duct tape and with bits of aluminum and lexan randomly slapped on.  It even seems to work pretty well.

I really like the name, Boxer's Rebellion Gone Mad.  Although I have to say neither spelling nor any understanding of what the original Boxer Rebellion was all about appears to be a priority for the kid!

Ah well.  The event should be fun as always.  If the robots are having an off year there is always this:  New T-shirts!

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