My first official day as a team member of the Jordan High School Robotics’ Team was quite an eventful one. On November 19, we packed up the team van with members. After attending a couple of the many classes that the Prior Lake team headed up, we went back to where we had left Karl to finish prepping him for the matches. Since only one of the drivers from our team could make it, we needed someone to man the ball loading arm. Therefore, I had to step up to the plate and work it.
Although we did not dominate on the field, we sure had a fun time! It is hard to explain the surge of energy and excitement one gets from participating in this kind of an event. However, I would sum it up as a totally awesome experience.
As this is the first post, I would like to introduce you to the world of Jordan robotics. Here’s a look at our shop, tucked away in the back of the Jordan Middle School:
The shop is the domain of the build team, and the occasional photographer or scavenger in search of chips and salsa. The programmers and the PR/media team work out of the computer lab upstairs.
The frenzy of build season is a whirlwind from the day that the game is released, then to our testing and scrimmage, and finally to lock-up day.
The first challenge the Build Team faced was to decide on which launching mechanism to
use. They developed to prototype versions of launchers: a catapult and a wheel-shooter.
After running into some difficulties with the latter, they decided to us the catapult design on the robot. During some early tests, this wooden prototype of the catapult successfully launched the ball through a dangling frame erected to represent the target in the game. The frame was the same size as the target would be in the competition, and had been erected carefully to be the same height. So we moved on to the next testing stage. Mounting the catapult onto the base of the robot, we launched the ball over a metal shelf or against a wall.
With the catapult well on its way to completion, we could focus on the other elements of the robot. We used the base from last year’s robot, but as always, a new year brings new modifications. We switched the robot’s wheels out for caterpillar tracks of an alarming shade of blue.
We had to make sure that these tracks spun at exactly the same speed otherwise the robot would be uncontrollable.
Then there’s the loading mechanism. We needed a way to get the ball off of the ground and into the catapult. Brainstorming ideas for the loading mechanism resulted in ideas from a suction cup to wheels that fed the ball into the robot. Eventually we developed a prototype with spinning rods to shoot the ball into the catapult. The trick was getting the rods the perfect distance apart so that there was enough pressure to shoot the ball, but not enough to get it stuck.
As the individual components of the robot come together, metal clinks on metal, occasional sparks sizzle from the welding station, and people hustle around the shop.
But there’s much more going on than what you see in the shop. The PR/Media team works mostly out of the computer lab upstairs, but we also mill around the shop or even around town talking to local sponsors. The PR/Media team is headed by captain Megan Monson, who jokes that she’s the mother hen of the team. In the computer lab, we work on contacting sponsors, completing challenges, designing logos and t-shirts, and all manner of other things to keep the team running.
We share the computer lab with the programmers. They work hard to make sure the controls for the robot work straight and the robot doesn’t turn left when you tell it to turn right. And although our PR/Media team and the programmers work generally apart from the build team down in the shop, we are by no means separated from them. Messengers bring pizza and pop up from the shop, and photographers and other ambassadors from our side frequently visit the shop.
That’s one of the fantastic things about the robotics team. It goes beyond the shop and the science and math that is beyond my capacity. I’m a writer (hence this blog), and other people on the team are artists, photographers, and all manner of different personalities and talents.
And all these many different people work together to bring us to our goals. And even after setbacks, we keep moving forward. During our scrimmage, for example, we had some troubles with programming and connecting to the server, and as a small team in a small school, we don’t have much funding, but we all make do with what we have to create something.
Our path to the regional competition this weekend has had plenty of bumps, but we’re about to take our robot up to the arena at the University of Minnesota. If the competition is anything like last year, we’ll be facing much bigger teams with many more resources, but we’re still eager to see what we can do and see our hard work in action.