First off, my congratulations to the students of FIRST Tech Challenge team 5445, the Trohawks, for making it all the way to the Iowa State Championship yesterday! Buster (the robot) performed wonderfully. He managed bowling balls, racquetballs, and crates, all while navigating the FTC arena war zone.
Although we didn’t quite make it to the national competition, we certainly had a lot of fun competing. Although I don’t have any video this time (lighting was atrocious), take a look through these exciting action shots from our five matches (mouse over for captions):
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a mentor for a local FIRST Tech Challenge team (Go Trohawks!) here in Waterloo, IA. For the past two months, my students have been busy designing, building, and programming Buster, their robot:
This past Sunday, we were put to the test at the Davenport Regional Qualifier. The students did exceptionally well. They impressed the judges with their knowledge and teamwork, their robot consistently captured their team’s bowling ball (both autonomously and via remote control), and they somehow managed to survive the bad jokes and the cha cha slide performance of our MCs and referees.
We did have a little trouble with the racquetballs though. Those little devils kept getting stuck in our drive mechanisms. Usually it was possible to rock the robot back and forth a bit until they dislodged, but it still caused us quite a bit of delay.
Now our main goal, as you may have guessed from the first picture above, was to retrieve and park our team’s bowling ball. This is something we can do quite well both autonomously and via remote. However, we were so good at capturing the ball that we were left without much to do for the majority of the competition. We’ll have to think of ways to deal with avoiding/collecting racquetballs for the next meet.
At the end of the day, we wound up ranked seventh out of twenty-one teams. Not bad considering the fact that none of us had ever done this before. And yes, I did manage to capture several of our matches on video using my BlackBerry Storm. Unfortunately, the video quality is very poor, and nowhere near HD resolution. Nevertheless, I present to you our fourth match. Feel free to comment below!
So recently I’ve been having fun acting as a mentor for a local FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) team. In case you haven’t heard of FTC, or any of the other FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics programs, they were created by Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway, among other things) in an effort to get kids interested in careers as engineers and scientists. They are, in essence, sporting events for robots, like this one we call Buster:
This is a robot developed by the Waterloo Upward Bound team (we don’t have an official name yet). Actually, this is just the prototype version of Buster. Our real robot is still in development and isn’t quite driveable yet. Fortunately, we have this very simple prototype which the students can use to create and test their operating programs.
Buster will be competing in a competition which lasts just two and a half minutes. For the first thirty seconds, he must act in complete autonomy – no human interaction is allowed. After that, the students can use up to two different controllers to navigate around the arena. Check out this page for details and video of this year’s challenge.
So I wanted to just quickly post a video I shot from on-board the robot this afternoon. In this clip, we’re testing autonomous operation. Buster is driving completely on his own using an ultrasonic rangefinder and a light sensor. The ultrasonic sensor is always visible in the video, and points forward attempting to detect obstacles. The light sensor is not visible, but points at the ground and helps Buster avoid dark-colored objects on the floor (green tiles, the black mat, and dark spaces). When a wall is encountered, Buster picks a random direction and turns until no obstacles are in range. At this point, he drives forward once again. When a dark-colored object is detected on the floor, the robot stops, reverses, turns slightly to the left, and continues forward again. Check it out:
Pretty neat perspective, right? Feel free to post comments and questions below!