Since Jan 9, I've been spending every weekend, holiday, and evening as one of the mentors for our local 4H robotics team (Team Facebook Page). My thirteen-year-old son wanted to join this year, and I thought it would be a good bonding experience for us. There are only about 39 more months until he graduates high school, and these are the sorts of kids I'd like him hanging out with. I've decided to do a series of blog entries to chronicle our adventure.
The FIRST robotics program was developed to encourage high school student to become involved in science and technology. Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway and those new Coke machines, is one of the founders. Each year, FIRST invents a new game to challenge the students. This year's challenge has a medieval theme, where robots cross elaborate defenses in order to launch "boulders" at the opponent's tower. The team has six weeks to design and build the robot from scratch.
On day one, they were buzzing with ideas. The team listed a prioritized their goals for the season. The robot couldn't do everything, so they decided what it should do first and best.
They agreed on the type of drive train and ball launcher fairly quickly. However, they weren't certain which tread configuration would be the most stable rolling over obstacles. Some people worried it might tip. The mentors suggested that they take the evening to build a wooden prototype and apply 110 pounds of weight. We constructed a model but had no weights--these are geeks not athletes.
My son, Pierce, weighs 112. So the team placed him on the model and ran him over simulated obstacles, trying to tip him. The design was rock-solid. I watched Pierce light up for the first time since his discovered Pokemon or iPods.
We divided into teams such as mechanical, electrical, pneumatics, and programming. As a retired programmer for HP, I looked forward to working with the kids on the code, but first we needed a robot. What was I going to do with the kids with nothing to do or until the team leaders arrived each meeting. I decided to build obstacles and tower goals with them.