Designed, Built, Flown!

You can’t choose the hand you’re dealt, but you can play it to win every time.

Along with every one else around the globe, the Providence Engineering Academy was dealt a tough hand in March. Having worked so hard in the lead-up to the major capstone project—to design, build, and fly a powered tethered aircraft—being asked to complete the project from home was not the situation that anyone wanted. But in the spirit of problem-solving, our junior and senior engineers faced up to the challenge. After all, what is engineering all about if not solving problems?

Our last post on this project ended with the four teams designing various aircraft components using professional-grade CAD software. They had sent their designs to Mr. Meadth, who began to 3D print their fuselages and tails, cut their carbon fiber, and CNC mill their wooden wing ribs, all from the comfort (?) of his garage.

The garage workshop: where the magic happens!

Over the course of several weeks, each team’s delivery bag in the garage began to pile higher and higher with these manufactured components, along with advanced electric motors, lightweight lithium batteries, tissue paper, and other bits and pieces. Every last one of these components had been accounted for in duplicate: in a virtual CAD model and a complex spreadsheet. The CAD model held the actual design for manufacture, visualization, assembly guarantee, and mass/center-of-gravity prediction. The spreadsheet calculated wing and tail lift, which in turn yielded a force and moment balance, and also a redundant center-of-gravity prediction. (Redundancy is not a negative word in aircraft engineering!)

Quick science lesson: the center of gravity (c.g.) is where the sum of all weight is located. In other words, it’s the point at which you could balance the aircraft on your finger, or where you could hang it from a string. It is determined by the masses and locations of the individual components, and it was critical that our uncontrolled aircraft had the center of gravity forward of the wing’s lift force. Without going into the deeper explanation, having the center of gravity as close to the nose as possible means that the aircraft will be self-correcting and stable as it flies. Try attaching a paperclip to the nose of your next paper aircraft and note the dramatic improvement! This is why we ran two separate c.g. calculations using two different method—we wanted to absolutely confirm before manufacture.

Fresh off the printer, ready for delivery!
Sam and Josh work on RUBYGEM, papering and
doping the wings

Mr. Meadth delivered each team’s bag directly to their respective homes. Upon arrival, each team worked hard to assemble the aircraft. This involved inserting carbon fiber spars into 3D printed wing boxes, stringing the wooden ribs evenly along the spars, covering the ribs with tissue paper, and then applying dope (a kind of water-based glue) to the paper. The doped paper dries and hardens into a kind of thin shell. The various electronics components were also connected and secured, along with the tail and undercarriage (landing gear).

At the same time, the simple tethering system had to be designed and implemented. The wooden stand sits in the middle of the flight path, and a 3D printed bearing served as an anchor point for the tether line. The tether was then attached to the wingtip. Some of the aircraft needed a little more rigging to ensure that the centripetal force didn’t rip the wingtip loose!

Fast forward to the big day. Mr. Meadth made a final decision to hold the test flights in the gym, instead of outside. The smooth floor would take one more variable out of the equation, and the enclosed space would keep out any stray gusts. When your plane only weighs about 2 pounds and floats on the breeze, a gentle wind can be your worst enemy!
Thanos steps on to the court!
First up to the plate was Nolan and Pedro. Their purple and grey monoplane had a planned weight of 800 grams (less than a liter of water). The wingspan was a fairly standard 1.06 meters (a bit more than 3 ft), with a conventional tail style and taildragger undercarriage. Mr. Meadth tied their aircraft to the tether as the excitement mounted, and Pedro took the first turn at the controls. A gentle increase on the electronic throttle, and the affectionately named Thanos rose up beautifully into the air! Nolan took a turn as well, and the team scored two successful take-offs and two successful landings—the ideal outcome!
Plan view of Thanos, taken from the CAD model
Next up was Madison and Alena. Their Airplane Baby was ready to take its first steps, with Alena at the helm. In various shades of baby blue, the 540 gram winged wonder stretched out at an impressive 1.2 meter span (about 4 ft). Their wing aspect ratio (the ratio of wingspan to chord length) was a very healthy 12, almost double that of some other teams. But would it fly?
Airplane Baby gets ready to roll!

The girls produced a set of plans for their
written report
Without a doubt! Both Madison and Alena toured the gym in a somewhat rollercoaster fashion, the tether line being stretched to its limit. We estimated just a couple of feet clearance between the aircraft and the walls—enough to make any pilot sweat a little! But after a safe landing, all was well.
And now a little math. Replaying the video, it looks like Airplane Baby took about 3.5 seconds to complete a lap. If the diameter of the circle was about equal to that of the basketball court (50 ft), then the radius of the circle was half that: 25 ft. The speed of the aircraft through the air is equal to distance over time; the circumference of the circle divided by the time to get around that circle.
Circumference = 2π × radius = 157 ft
Speed = distance/time = 157/3.5 = 45 ft/s
This was about 36% faster than their design speed of 33 ft/s, which only goes to show that their stable aircraft design works just as well under a variety of situations. (It may also mean that their wings weren’t as effective at generating lift as theorized!)
Sam and Joshua took to the floor after that, with a slender red aircraft tied to the tether: RUBYGEM. With a planned mass of 440 grams (almost exactly one pound), this was the lightest plane on display. Their rectangular wing planform spanned 1.08 meters, and they planned to fly at only 8 meters per second (26 ft/s). A lighter aircraft does not need as much lift to stay in the air, and so for any given wing design, it can fly slower and still generate the force it needs.
RUBYGEM steps out in style
As RUBYGEM gracefully lifted into the air, it was obvious that she indeed favored a slower style of things. Completing each lap in almost 5 seconds, the flight speed can be calculated at 33 ft/s. This is also faster than their design speed, which reinforces the theory that perhaps there is more inefficiency in the design than our theory accounts for. Sounds like real life, all right!
After successful landings, Mr. Meadth made the decision to head outside with the fourth aircraft: Big Wing Boy. And boy, was it big! At over 2 meters (6.5 ft) span, this multi-colored monoplane was just too big to spread its wings indoors. It was also designed to fly a little slower, and was very light for its size: 800 grams.
Big Wing Boy, taken from the design report

There was, however, one significant issue: while the design looked good in the CAD model and spreadsheet, the greater spans and sizes meant the physical attachment of the parts was just that much more difficult. The sheer size tended to stress the wing root joints more, so extra tension lines were strung between wingtips to help hold everything together.
Being outdoors on the grassy field, the decision was also made to give the aircraft a running hand-held start, because the wheels get caught in the grass. Risky? Yes! Mr. Meadth held Big Wing Boy aloft and kicked off his shoes to get the best launch speed possible. Given that an Olympic runner travels at around the 10 m/s mark, finding the necessary design speed of 8 m/s would be a challenge!

Ben cranked the throttle to a healthy roar, and Mr. Meadth began to dash around the circle. With a final push into the air, B.W.B. lifted up into the great blue yonder where he belonged. All seemed well… and then the unthinkable! Video footage analysis confirms that the carbon fiber stick connecting the wings to the tail tore loose from the aerodynamic loads, and no plane can ever do well without that stabilizing influence. This principle was, in fact, one of the central pillars of the second semester!
The moment of horror as the tail comes loose!
The aircraft wanted to perform, but just couldn’t remain aloft. It plowed into the grassy field after only a few seconds of genuine flight. A quick repair and a repeat attempt was launched shortly thereafter, but another half-lap was achieved with similar results—with more permanent destruction this time! There was no third flight.
At the end of the day, what did we learn?
  1. Challenges are there to be overcome. The project could have modified to be easier, simpler, more virtual, you name it. But that kind of logic doesn’t get you into the history books, and doesn’t give the same kind of satisfaction. Greater levels of determination can turn challenges into victory.
  2. Theory is useful, but doesn’t account for everything. Math and physics equations and computer simulations are incredibly useful, and with high-level manufacturing can be a very good analogy of the intended outcome. But the fact is that our theoretical calculations didn’t account for a great many factors. This makes it all the more important to create robust, stable designs. The aircraft didn’t perform exactly as intended, but they did perform in the real world.
  3. Aircraft need firmly attached tails. You may want to check the welds next time you hop on board your next 737.
Congratulations to our eight aircraft engineers, and many blessings on the four seniors, now alumni: Ben, Todd, Alena, and Madison. You have completed something to be proud of!

Architecture Competition 2020

(The following post, written by Anna Beebe, was intended to be published in March—and then COVID-19 happened! Forgive our tardiness… the Architecture Competition was one of the very last things the Providence Engineering Academy did in person this year and it was highly worthwhile!)

The students get ready for the day’s instructions

On Tuesday, March 10th, fourteen Providence Engineering students—our largest group to date—attended a county-wide High School Design Competition hosted by the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara. Our students joined approximately 30 other students at 8am at Direct Relief’s global headquarters in Santa Barbara while a parallel section of the competition was offered at the same time at a location in the Santa Ynez valley.

This competition has been held annually for the past 30 years, and Providence students have won awards in the competition in both 2018 and 2019.

Teacher Matt Eves prepared our students incredibly well. For the last three months, class time has been devoted to architectural study. Students have been learning how to use architectural drawing boards with t-squares and triangles, as well as how to draw to scale. Both of these skills were utilized in the competition, as students were engaged in designing floor plans, site plans, and elevation drawings.

On site, students were given a design challenge immediately upon entering the room. Historically, the Architectural Foundation has attempted to choose challenges that connect directly to current architectural challenges in Santa Barbara.

This year, the challenge was to design a “tiny house”—a fully-functional home that is typically less than 600 square feet, with some as small as 65 square feet. You may be familiar with the “tiny homes” that back up to the US101 North near the Salinas exit, one of several tiny-house projects in Santa Barbara born of a recent ordinance authorizing their construction in order to make use of unconventional plots of land.

Students were given a site plan that showed streets and a plot layout and were instructed to design a tiny house on it, and draw-to-scale some details including elevation and floor plan. While the students worked, professional architects circled the room acting as mentors and offering design advice.

Sophomore Kaitlyn Tang said of the competition, “There’s something about designing that is special. Although tasked to build a tiny house, there really was no ceiling to what we could do. It was so amazing to be able to design something from scratch with endless possibilities. I had such a fun experience and time flew by, but I think in the end, we all designed something that we were really proud of.”

Dozens of high schools from around Santa Barbara County
were represented at the design competition
Junior Joshua Frankenfield returned to the competition for his third year, having won past awards. He says of his experience, “I must say that the architecture competition is one of the highlights of the school year for me. The way it is set up gives the students leeway to solve the problem however they wish in the time period given, so long as it operates within the restraints. It is a true engineering experience within the realm of architecture.”

We are incredibly proud of the hard work and creativity our Providence students demonstrated, and are so grateful for the opportunity they had to connect with architects in the city. For those who are interested in studying architecture, this experience will be a wonderful spring-board for their professional future! As sophomore James Loewen put it, “It has been a very fun experience regardless of winning or not!”

Coding Champs!

The following article appeared in the Santa Barbara News-Press on the 7th of January, written by Christian Whittle.

When Freshman Ruby Kilpper and sophomore Sydney Whited of the Providence School high school set out to develop an app for the Congressional App Challenge, they had a lot of ideas and not much time to choose one.

“We kept narrowing it down based on our skill level, what we thought we could do, and how much time we had,” said Sydney.

Eventually the two settled on Santa Barbara Volunteer Opportunities, a way for high schoolers to find volunteer opportunities in the area. And after a month of dedication their hard work paid off, winning the app challenge in Rep. Salud Carbajal’s 24th Congressional District.

Ruby and Sydney received the Congressional App Challenge award from Mr. Carbajal on Monday.

The annual coding competition for students was created to increase congressional awareness of computer science and STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math).

Mr. Carbajal brought the two students to his Santa Barbara district office to honor their achievements and invite them to a reception at the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.

“It’s a great opportunity to provide to our constituents and our young people, and it’s really cool to have young people from your district represented in Washington. We’re all very proud of you,” said Mr. Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara.

The pair are students in the Providence Engineering Academy. Launched in 2015, the academy, led by Rodney Meadth, serves as a springboard for students considering a career in math, science, or engineering disciplines. Participants enroll in specific classes from ninth through 12th grades.

Santa Barbara High School students won the challenge last year, but Providence stepped up the competition in 2019 by submitting eight projects.

“We’ve never gotten so many projects submitted from one school in particular, so obviously your teacher and your school had a lot to do with it and it just makes me feel really good about our future, the fact that you have a local school who’s really promoting coding,” Mr. Carbajal told the students.

The app Ruby and Sydney created for the competition, the Santa Barbara Volunteer Opportunities app, allows local nonprofits to post opportunities to serve, with details about age and time requirements, location, and the work needed from volunteers.

Users can use the app when they are interested in finding somewhere to serve. The pair wrote the app’s script in Java with 500 lines of code, and designed it mainly for use by high school students.

Sydney and Ruby were inspired to make the app by Providence’s annual day of service, in which students volunteer around the city, as well as Sydney’s experience volunteering with her mother for the Santa Barbara chapter of the National Charity League.

“I think it’s a great requirement to go out and serve your community, but sometimes it can be difficult to find opportunities to serve,” Ruby said.

The pair wanted to create a platform where students can reach out to organizations on their own to find different opportunities that work for their schedule and interests.

“We wanted to create an app that made the process easier and overall better for our community,” said Ruby.

“This was very innovative,” said Mr. Carbajal. “My staff and I, we went through them all, and yours was clearly at the top early on because it’s just so practical, and it’s so user friendly.”

Although they had some experience coding, it was the first time either of them had worked with Java. Sydney had tried coding in middle school and didn’t take to it, but this time around she and Ruby had a lot of fun. Both have been inspired to continue learning about coding as they think about college and the future.

With the limited time to come up with a concept and develop the app, Sydney and Ruby weren’t able to fit in every feature they wanted, like a search bar and map. Nevertheless, they’re proud of what they were able to accomplish.

The SBVO app is still in the development and testing stage and is not yet available for download, but Ruby and Sydney are considering finishing the project despite the Challenge having ended.

Established in 2015, the Congressional App Challenge is considered to be the most prestigious prize in student computer science, according to the CAC website.

Members of the House of Representatives host contests in their districts for middle and high school students, encouraging them to learn to code and inspiring them to pursue careers in computer science.

Participating House members each select a winning app from their districts, and each winning team is invited to showcase their winning app at the U.S. Capitol during the annual #HouseOfCode festival in the spring.

Since its inception, the CAC has inspired more than 14,000 students across 48 states to program an app. In 2019, 10,000 students registered for the competition, 2,177 created and submitted functioning apps, and 304 House members chose winners from their districts.

Sydney and Ruby will receive a $250 Amazon Web Service Credit. Their app and their names will be displayed on the Congressional App Challenge website. The House of Representatives reception will be the second time Sydney and Ruby have visited the Capitol, after an eighth-grade field trip to the city.

“Now you get to go back as winners!” said Mr. Carbajal.

email: cwhittle@newspress.com

Summer Camp 2019

This summer, the Providence Engineering Academy once again hosted the very special Robot City summer camp. With assistance from four capable high school engineering students (Alena, Davis, Pedro, and Zach), Mr. Eves and Mr. Meadth put on an unforgettable experience!

(Please note that all photos in this article have been selected to avoid showing camper faces, since not all students are from Providence with a photo release. Apologies if you’re looking for your loved one’s smiling face!)

Day 1: Architecture
After breaking into four teams, each group selected the theme for their quadrant of Robot City. The Green Team chose Time Travel, the Blue Team settled on a Medieval Castle, the Yellow Team laid out an Alien Attack on the Beach, and Red Team was Future City. A quick lesson of folding geometric nets, and all campers from 3rd to 7th Grade were ready to build!

The skyline emerges! A colorful mess of card and tape!

Red Team’s skyscraper went up and up and up, and needed to be
tied down with guy ropes!
Blue Team’s “Nice No-Trap Castle”. Should we believe them?

With inspiring challenges like “Tallest Tower” and “Most Colorful”, each team worked hard to lay out their cities. Skyscrapers rose up six feet into the air, zip lines were strung out, and spaces carefully divided out.

Day 2: CAD and 3D Printing
It might sound complex, but physically printing CAD (computer-aided design) models is something within the reach of any elementary student! Mr. Meadth taught the campers how to use Tinkercad, a free in-browser design tool created by AutoDesk. Designers can use simple shapes such as cylinders, cones, spheres, and prisms to create more complex models, such as houses and rocketships and characters.

Two of our campers work on their CAD models (Owen’s model
on the right is shown in detail below)

This is a great tool to get kids thinking in terms of linear dimensions, negative and positive space, perspective, volume, and it’s just plain creative fun! Here are a couple of examples of what the kids came up with. We also had spaceships, tanks, flying cars, and castles. Wow!

Once created (the models above took the students less than an hour to build), the designs were sent to the 3D printer. At a small enough print size, most models were done in about an hour, in a range of colors. Of course, after the camp the students got to keep whatever they have printed!

It’s just as addictive as watching TV, but at the end of the program
there’s actually something to show for. Thanks, Raise3D!

Day 3: Electrification
Always a favorite! Mr. Meadth gave a quick lesson on simple circuits, explaining terms such as “LED”, “voltage”, “series”, and “parallel”. Each team was given a supply of copper tape, coin batteries, and LEDs, and shown how to connect them together to power their city. It wasn’t long before the entire room was lit up with red, blue, orange, white, and green!

A lovely beach paradise in the shadow of the skyscrapers
(the tidal wave was added later)

The Green Team’s time travel zone included some helpful signs
(because time travel can be confusing)

A scale replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, courtesy of Abigail

All teams took up the extra challenges as well, building working paper switches, including both series and parallel circuits, and working to match their lighting arrangements to their theme. Blue Team created “laser traps” for their medieval castle, and Green Team strung out a long neatly-lit road to mark out their different time travel zones. Billboard were illuminated and “stained-glass” windows lit from the inside.

Mr. Eves works on the Blue Team’s medieval quadrant
LEDs don’t come through well in photos, but you get the idea!

When parents arrived for pickup on Wednesday, the lights went out, and the party started!

Day 4: LEGO Robotics
What’s a Robot City without robots? This year, Mr. Meadth and Mr. Eves guided the campers on how to incorporate LEGO Mindstorms robotics sets. Rather than creating robotic systems that would move around (and potentially destroy delicate buildings and circuits!), the teams focused on stationary mechanical systems. Mr. Meadth gave some lessons on essential mechanical systems (bevelled gears, gear reductions, universal joints, cams and cranks, etc.), issued some fun challenges, and away they all went!

Does this look like anybody’s bedroom floor? Times it by 16.

A futuristic monorail glides around Green Team’s city buildings

What’s a medieval world without an authentic, functional windmill?

We were blown away by all of the amazing creations that campers and their team leaders built: several working elevators (with tracks and with pulleys/windlasses); a slowly rotating time travel portal (sadly not actually functional); a crank-powered shooting spaceship; an amusement park ride; drawbridges; a merry-go-round; several demolition machines!

(P.S. For any parents of elementary students wanting a more cost-friendly version of LEGO Mindstorms, I highly recommend LEGO Boost. At about $150, it is a somewhat simplified system, still with sensors, motors, and fully programmable using a block-based system. The only downside is that it does always need a tablet/phone/computer app to be running via Bluetooth to make it work.)

Day 5: Do Over
At this point in the camp, the kids have learned so many different things and have typically gravitated towards one or the other. Some of them think that LED illumination is the coolest thing, and others just can’t get enough of making CAD models online. So on the fifth day, Mr. Meadth and Mr. Eves issued a few more challenges of various sorts. The teams helped put together a welcome sign with their photo on it; they all constructed a wearable accessory lit up with more lights and batteries. Some made hats and funky glasses and others made glowing swords!

The fun keeps coming on Day 5!

Robot City continued to grow in complexity and variety. Some teams incorporated sensors into their robotic systems, using touch triggers and infrared detectors to more accurately control their elevators and bridges.

By the time parents arrived at 12:30, the teams were ready for the final wrap-up. All points were tallied, and the all-girl Green Team took the grand prize, much to their delight!

Parents were delighted to see everything
the kids had accomplished… and that
someone else was handling the cleanup!

Mr. Meadth and Mr. Eves would like to thank all families for making our third Robot City camp such a success! We intend to run this again in 2020 (new ideas are already in the works!), so please spread the word amongst family and friends. You can start by sharing this article with someone who might be interested! And remember, this camp is open to all students, not just those from Providence. We’re always glad to welcome new friends from outside our regular community.

Until next year, may these junior engineers keep on designing and keep on building!

Searching for Solutions: Search and Rescue Robot Challenge

(Our latest blog article comes courtesy of Joshua in the 10th Grade.  Thanks, Josh!)

In the event of an emergency, robots may be called upon to enter into areas which have been devastated by natural disaster. The thirteen students from the Foundations of Engineering II class split up into four groups to build such robots, and testing came after eight weeks of work and dedication!

The original CAD model of the obstacle course, constructed
over several weeks by our indefatigable teaching assistants,
seniors Josh and Claire
The testing included nine phases (any of which could be skipped) all while carrying a payload. The teams would go through two gates of different sizes, over a gravel pit, up onto platforms of varying heights of 50 and 100 mm, push a block with the mass of one kilogram, go across a chasm, and make their way up a 45° incline. At the end of the run, the robot would be required to drop off the payload. The driver for each team would first do this routine while watching from nearby, and then once again using only a first-person camera view.
Davis gets his team’s robot up onto the 50 mm platform with
no worries at all
The first robot to test was the “Trapezoidal Tank”. This robot was built by Nolan, Davis, and Alan. They felt ready for the first trial of the course, but decided to skip the 45° incline. Everything ran smoothly until the payload drop at the very end. They realized something was wrong.

The payload mechanism’s motor came unplugged!

Davis, the driver, thought up an idea. The payload was resting on top of the robot. What if he just flipped the whole robot over? Using the tank’s “tail”, he flipped the robot up onto its end and delivered the payload.

Although not able to climb the full 45 degree slope, with a slight
modification the Trapezoidal Tank was make it at 40 degrees
A moment of pure glory! Davis upends the entire robot and performs
the obligatory victory dance!
On the camera-only run, the course was successfully completed again with only one obstacle skipped.

Caleb taking things in his stride, as the long-legged robot effortlessly
clambers over the gravel pit obstacle
Caleb attempts to steer by camera only–
no easy feat! 
Pushing the one-kilogram block away, the package waiting to be
delivered is clearly seen on the right-hand side of the robot
This complex (and squeaky) maneuver involves a series of
high-torque gymnastic activities

Next up was “Daddy Long Legs,” a robot with motorized wheels attached to extended legs. It was built by Caleb, Sydney, and Zach. Caleb, the driver, slowly completed the run, also skipping the very difficult 45° incline. On the camera-only trial, the robot was not able to place the payload in the designated area.

Anaconda brings its bulk to bear on a one-kilogram block of wood
This monster robot leaps 100 mm platforms with
a single bound!

Next was “Anaconda”, built by Sam P., Isaiah, and Pedro. It’s most notable feature? The robot’s tracks could rotate all the way around to point in the opposite direction. Sam P. took the wheel, and on his first run, he only skipped the smaller gate. On the camera-only run, he made it through the same obstacles without any issues.

James steers the Iron Horse through both gates and up onto
the 100 mm platform
Finally, the “Iron Horse” entered. This robot was built by Sam K., James, Joshua, and Kaitlyn. The design was simple yet effective. However, the extra mechanism they had added to their robot at the last minute broke! It was designed to help them get up onto the two platforms. Fortunately, there was enough power available for it to slowly assist with the obstacle it was built for.
Charging over the gravel pit with a huge ground clearance
Shortly after, that extra mechanism fell off and so did the payload. In a lengthy and complicated series of maneuvers, James used the one-kilogram block to push the payload over into the designated area.
End of the road: the Iron Horse capsizes while trying to free its
jammed package (the small yellow catch was supposed to release
and allow the hinged door to fall)
On the camera-only run, the Iron Horse’s payload wouldn’t release. James used the gravel pit to try to get the payload to come loose, but the robot flipped over. He attempted to flip the robot back over, but it tipped over on its side instead. This run was incomplete.

The lesson to be learned for these four groups? Each problem can be solved in many different ways, but some are more effective than others. In every problem you encounter, consider those many solutions and then choose the most effective one.

Search and Rescue Robot Photos: Josh Guinto

One of the strengths of our Engineering Academy is the opportunity to assign older students to act as teaching assistants for the younger group. This year, we are privileged to have Josh and Claire, both seniors, working behind the scenes day in and day out. Josh and Claire take care of so many important things, freeing me up (Mr. Meadth) to focus on teaching and assisting students.
Following on from the highly successful robotic arm project, our current robotics challenge is to design and build a search and rescue robot. This idea has been widely explored by many universities and private companies. We are proud to have four separate teams, each developing a unique solution for a robot that can navigate a defined obstacle course and deliver a survival package to a person on the other end. Such a robot might be used in an earthquake scenario.
No more talk from me! Let me simply share some excellent photos taken by Josh (thanks once again!) We’ll send out an update once this project is completed, so stay posted.
Sam and Pedro arrange the motors around a differential gearbox

Zach, Sydney, and Caleb working on some very secret plans!

Sam, Pedro, and Isaiah can’t wait to add tracks to their creation!

Nolan and Alan looking for bugs in the program

Sydney gears up for safety!

Sam compares his custom 3D-printed pentagonal wheels as
James looks on

Kaitlyn and Josh hard at work writing lines of code

Davis completes some highly necessary modifications to his
team’s tracked robot

Mr. Meadth undertakes repairs to one of Zach’s electric motors

James reattaches the front wheels again

Alan considers his 3D-printed component: a rotating “jack” to
tilt their robot up and down

Gabe Farhadian: Honorable Mention

It’s always a delight to see one of our seniors finish up with a personal best. On the court, in the classroom, and in the community, we love to celebrate special accomplishments. This past week, Engineering Academy member Gabe Farhadian did just that!

Gabe Farhadian: Honorable Mention

For the second time, Providence School sent a group of students to the High School Design Competition put on by the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara. The seven students—Gabe, Eva, Seung, Joshua, James, Sam, and Zach—drove with Mr. Meadth up to Direct Relief‘s headquarters in Goleta (a gorgeous modern building in and of itself, if any extra inspiration was needed!). Armed to the teeth with T-squares, triangles, architectural scale rules, and custom-built drawing boards, the enthusiastic students listened carefully to the instructions for a particularly unique challenge.

The competition organizers gave everyone a large scale map of the State Street Theatre District, and described how they would need to redesign part of Victoria Street to become a pedestrian paseo, complete with apartments, public transport connections, and landscape gardening. The idea for this competition came from actual professional charrettes that took place in Santa Barbara not long ago, and is in keeping with possible future plans for that area.

All seven students took to the challenge with gusto. Those who participated last year already knew that six hours to work would not be enough, so they charged in and started drawing. Only a combination of creativity and technical drawing skill could succeed in the task, and we’d like to think our Providence Engineering students have a good measure of both!

Gabe’s complete set of drawings: a site map of the Theatre District,
a floor plan of an apartment, and various other details

The results came in the next day, and Gabe was listed as one of the top twelve finalists! (Both he and Joshua achieved this same honor last year, and had presented their designs to a panel of judges at the Alisal Guest Ranch in Santa Ynez.) This year, Gabe would head out to Dunn School in Los Olivos to talk through his design with the panel of experts.

Gabe (right) stands proudly with the top five

Gabe was first in line to present, with his family standing proudly by (Gabe’s mother, Katherine, is a local landscape architect). At the close of the event, he and one other student from Dunn School were awarded an honorable mention alongside the winners, who came from Laguna Blanca, Dos Pueblos, and Santa Ynez. Well done!
In the 2019-2020 school year, the younger section of the Providence Engineering Academy will spend a significant part of their time on architectural studies. Drawing to scale in plan and elevation, finding creative solutions in teams and as individuals, and using CAD software to represent ideas—there’s so much to look forward to as we seek to “inspire and equip” students to act as “imitators of a creative God.”

Robots Head to Head

In the Providence Engineering Academy, we take care of a lot of serious business. We use trigonometry to calculate vector components. We learn how Rene Descartes’ philosophy paved the way for a flawed view of “the ghost in the machine”. We learn how to identify fixed, hinged, and simple supports in typical static structures.

And some days, we just get out there and have head-to-head robot wars!

James gets excited as teammate Nolan drops
one in the bucket!

The challenge: set up a metal remote-control robot to collect as many tennis balls as possible in eight minutes.

The setting: the wooden deck behind Mr. Rottman’s room.

The outcome: a whole lot of high-energy fun! (And possibly some learning along the way.)

One robot encounters the harsh realities of the laws of physics…
a quick flip of the claw and it’s back in the game!

After a week of careful coding, mechanical modification, and practice, each of the four teams was ready to enter The Pit. Programmers had gone over scores of lines of code in search of errors and optimizations. Extra bits and pieces were judiciously selected and bolted on. Optimistic 9th and 10th Graders jubilantly walked their robots across the yard to be tried against each other: head to head to head to head!

What do you do when your claw stops working in the middle
of the game? Teacher to the rescue!

The first round was not without its upsets. The whistle blew, and three robots sprang to life, but Sam’s robot just refused to launch. Mr. Meadth waded through a morass of error messages to find that Sam had inadvertently typed extra characters into his code as he had walked over. A quick fix and back in business!

Sam brought the team back to life despite the time lost, scoring double points along the way to finish with seven total. But nothing could touch Pedro, who expertly picked up no fewer than ten balls!

Joshua places his ball with infinite caution
as Pedro and Sam look on

With help from Claire and Josh, our dedicated senior teaching assistants, the field was reset, and new operators stepped up. After a quick reminder of which buttons did what, the robots roared to life again. Sydney managed to best her teammate’s score from four to five, but no one could touch Pedro’s teammate, Joshua, who matched his performance with another ten!

James steadies the bucket while Caleb
drops another one in–illegal move?

For the final round, the controls were passed to James, Alan, Sam, and Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn managed to score six, which was impressive enough, but Alan beat her out by one to make seven… and James roared from behind to lead his team to a victorious ten!

Sydney and Kaitlyn felt this way after each
and every ball

Well done to all team members! You coded and designed and built and redesigned and rebuilt. Well done on working together towards the end goal. Final scores are as follows:

Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Total
Davis 4 Sydney 5 Kaitlyn 6 15
Pedro 10 Joshua 10 Sam P. 4 24
Nolan 5 Caleb 4 James 10 19
Sam K. 7 Zach 2 Alan 7 16

Well done to Pedro, Joshua, and Sam, winning two out of three rounds and getting the highest cumulative score overall. Our next major robotics project will turn our attention to more sober-minded matters. How can robotics technology be used to help the weak and unfortunate? Stay tuned to find out!

MS Bridges: Welcome to Mr. Eves!

Joining us this year at Providence is the highly qualified Mr. Matt Eves. A long-time friend of Mr. Meadth, Mr. Eves brings his experiences in engineering and business to the AP Calculus AB class with our seniors, and the Intro to Engineering class with the middle schoolers.

Mr. Eves wasted no time in getting down to one of our famous projects: The Bridge! In teams of two, with a list of required constraints, they set about building the longest possible bridge. This is more than just messing around with LEGO; students were demonstrating that they had learned the underlying structural principles of triangular trusses and bending beams.

Josue and Larry measure their jointed creation

Jeffry, one of the able teacher assistants, helps Paul and Ryken

Elizabeth, Carmen, Nate, and Abigail take a moment to smile!

Taylor and Will understood the need for vertical triangles…
is there anything they were still missing?

Tess and Bryce carefully counting the pieces they used

Jonny, another of our teacher assistants, helping Hunter and Reggie


(By the way, if you’re wondering about the teacher assistants: Jonny, Jeffry, Emma, and Ruby are all acting in this capacity this semester. Having taken this class once already, they are now bringing their learning to another level by helping the other students. There is no better way to learn than by teaching! They have also been taking time out with Mr. Meadth during class to learn CAD tools, with some of their creations being 3D printed.)

Upon completion, the seven teams laid wooden tracks across their bridges and put them to the test. All teams performed incredibly well, with almost no flexing evident. The following video shows the tests–in each one, what elements of design do you see that are contributing to the bridge’s strength?

A great start to the year! Next step: learning about gears and torque. Students will combine these lessons with their knowledge of structural strength to build a special machine… can you guess what it is? All this, so we can learn to build a robot that moves properly and is mechanically strong.

Browse around and check out some of our other recent posts. Feel free to email Mr. Meadth or Mr. Eves for any questions about the Providence engineering programs, and share this post freely with family and friends!

Guessing Games and Plywood Furniture

The first couple of weeks are already under our belt, and we are off to a good start in the Providence Engineering Academy! This year, we have ten determined engineers-in-training in the older group, and thirteen in the younger. The older group will spend the year studying statics—the science of things that don’t move—and the younger will be learning the ins and outs of both robotics and mathematics.

Both groups started off the year with a simple exercise to test their divergent and convergent thinking skills. Mr. Meadth had a 3D-printed model of an well-known mechanical device hidden in a box, broken down into its twelve constituent pieces. The device was unnamed, but the students were assured that they were very familiar with it, and that there were several such devices in the room all around. He brought out the pieces one by one, and after each new piece was revealed, the students set about guessing what the device could be.
Congratulations to Pedro and Alena! (And also to Claire, who learned not to second guess herself!) After only four of the twelve pieces were revealed, they correctly guessed the identity of the complete device. Sound easy? Here’s the four pieces they had in front of them when they guessed correctly. Don’t scroll down too far unless you want the answer!
Each of these little red prisms are about half an inch tall in actual size
What could the entire device be?
Give up yet?
Scroll down…
If you guessed that the complete device was a lock and key, well done!
The four prisms are on top, called the driver pins
There’s even more going on inside!

In their respective classes, Alena’s and Pedro’s prize was to build the device up from its twelve pieces, without any help from the teacher. With cheering and suggestions from their peers, Alena and Pedro were successfully able to get it all together in time!
Alena fits the pieces together in the new Room 102
There’s plenty more going on since then. To get warmed up in their “study of things that don’t move”, the Advanced Engineering I group is working in three competitive teams to produce a new piece of classroom furniture for Room 102. All three teams settled for variations of plywood lecterns (not podiums—sorry if you’ve been misusing this word). We look forward to seeing what emerges over the next couple of weeks.
Colby, Gabe, and Todd work together on their piece of modern art;
the purchased plywood patiently awaits!
Stay posted for updates on the furniture, and to find out just what it means to study robotics in the high school program. (Hint: we aren’t fooling around with LEGO anymore!)