A template for BristleBot Competitions

Aesthetically Interesting

For the robotics team that we mentor (FRC team 3501), we created an “Advanced Bristlebot Competition” to serve as an off-season team building exercise. We are publishing our competition template (PDF download) here so that anyone can use it as a starting point for their own events. The goals of the competition are to provide a self-contained, resource-constrained and time-limited introduction to a robot competition environment, and to get new and continuing students working together on solving simple engineering challenges.

Arenas

The competition consists of three challenges: sprint (distance time trial), mountain climbing (same, on an inclined plane), and sumo (a two-robot competition that rewards going in circles).

Working together

The group of students is split into teams of two, trying to pair new students with team veterans.

Distributing supplies

Each team is given a set of rules and a small pile of toothbrushes, motors, and batteries.

construction supplies

Beyond this, one table is designated for tools and supplies, and has an assortment of craft supplies including things like coffee stir sticks, wires, twist-ties, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, pom-poms, and tape. Building tools include hot glue guns, scissors, bolt cutters (for cutting the heads off of toothbrushes), and wire strippers.

Ready for competition

After a building period, the robots are “bagged and tagged” prior to competition. For the BristleBots, this means they are placed on paper plates marked with their team number for inspection to ensure that they meet the competition requirements.

Practice match

The competition takes place in two rounds, separated by an interval of building time between them.  The extra time allows the students to redesign and implement changes based on what they learned during the first round of matches.

Vrooom...

We witnessed a couple of great moments during our event. We overheard some students watching our original BristleBot video on a phone, and when they noticed us watching them, they defended themselves, saying, “The rules don’t say we can’t!”

Go!

One of the most technically inclined students on the team, after building several prototypes and studying the performance of his BristleBots on the ramp for about 10 minutes asked, “This can’t actually be done, can it?” Minutes later, a veteran student from another team, proudly set his robot on the ramp and it whizzed up in one solid go in about 10 seconds. Later, during competition, another student watched her BristleBot zoom up the ramp in 3 seconds flat, using a variation on that successful design.

Materials & Resources

KQED on Extreme Learners

Redhead with backpack looking at San Francisco skyline

By Jane Mount/MindShift

I recently talked to Linda Flanagan from KQED‘s blog on learning, MindShift, about extreme learning and her post What Makes an ‘Extreme Learner’? went up today.

It’s the hunger for learning rather than raw intellect that distinguishes Extreme Learners from the gifted. Intensely motivated and harboring a breadth of interests, they also consider ignorance a temporary and reparable condition.

I previously posted about the extreme learning workshop at the Institute for the Future.

BAMF2014: BreadBoardManiac

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Part of our continuing coverage of highlights from the 2014 Bay Area Maker Faire.

Not that I’m normally one to get excited about electronic breadboards, but I’ve had to change my mind after seeing these at Maker Faire. These breadboards by BreadBoardManiac are some of the finest electronics accessories that I’ve ever seen.  Not only do they snap to Lego bricks (making one heck of a cool building set), but they are also super-thin and double-sided, so that you can insert components from both sides. They suggest that you can use that feature to make multi-layer breadboards with vertical interconnects, but perhaps that is a bit of a stretch.

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Their handmade limited edition wooden breadboards are perhaps even cooler, and were made available as part of this kickstarter project earlier in the year. This is what I’d expect kids in school to learn electronics with, and it sure would be nice if a production version became available in the future. It looks like there’s also a flexible breadboard under development, amongst other types.  I can hardly wait to get my hands on all of these.

Open Make at The Tech

Open Make @ The Tech logoWe’ll be at The Tech museum in San Jose this Saturday, April 26, for an Open Make session with the theme of “Flow.” The event is in collaboration with the Maker Education Initiative.

Open Make activities run from 10 am to 2 pm and are free with museum admission.

Previous Open Make posts:

Cameo on CNN Explains 3D Printing

Our friend AnnMarie, who is an engineering professor, wrote to say,

I keep showing the short CNN explains 3D printing video in talks I have to give to students, and always love that you and Windell are walking through the MakerBot store in it!

We were highly amused as we had never seen the clip, which was published in 2013. The footage must have been shot just after the 2012 NY Maker Faire. Having been featured in Wired Magazine for our own 3D printer, it is perhaps appropriate that when the video cuts to us, the narrator says,

The people at the forefront of this movement, they say they want this to be as common in peoples homes as the toaster oven.

(We show up for about one second at 1:35.)

From the Mailbag: on STEAM Education

Evil Mad Scientist STEAM T-shirt
Trevor wrote in:

I’ve probably said it a million times, but I don’t think I’ve told you guys. You’re amazing. When it’s time for a new project I jump over to EMSL first. I use your projects to demonstrate a lot of STEAM principles at my Makerspace, and proudly wear my EMSL STEAM shirt every Saturday morning when I’m teaching our Makerspace Cadets class. (It’s a fun sciencey/makey/artsy class for kids). Keep up the great work. :)

Thank you for the kind words, and for your dedication to your students!

Robots in the Central Valley

Rows of busy pits

Friday was a busy day in the pits at the Central Valley Regional FIRST Robotics Competition. The teams got their robots unpacked, inspected, and ran practice rounds prior to matches this weekend. We’re here with Fremont Robotics, and we’ll be taking pictures throughout the weekend and posting them (tagged by team number where identifiable) in this flickr set.

On the field

The challenge this year is fun to watch: the robots score goals with large exercise balls and earn extra points for passing to team members and throwing the ball over a beam. The event is free to attend and open to the public, so if you’re near Madera, California this weekend, we’d love to see you here!

Extreme Learning at the Institute for the Future

Not long ago, I participated in a workshop at the Institute for the Future on what they are calling Extreme Learning. They have just launched a site to provide resources for alternative learning paths and to share stories of extreme learners (like mine in the video above). On the extreme learners site, there are more stories from the workshop participants, who were a fascinating group from diverse backgrounds. This project is a part of the Future of Learning program.