MS Science & Engineering Expo 2018

The annual Middle School Science & Engineering Expo was a huge success once again, thanks to the hard work and positive attitudes of so many students, parents, teachers, and staff. This year’s theme of The Human Machine inspired a range of hands-on explorations, from Masa and Cameron’s tennis and baseball clinic, to Heidi and Ella’s eye dissection, to robotic prosthetic hands built by the Intro to Engineering class.

Harry, Ruby, Isabela, and James show off their robotic hands

Elementary students get in on the action!

Masa shows Mr. Sunukjian how it’s done!

Mr. Alker worked hard with every 8th Grade student over a period of several weeks to hone their demonstrations to perfection. With such a rich inspiration as the human body itself, students were well able to explore athletics, biology, physics, and engineering.
Never too young to begin!  Providence class of  2033?

Mr. Alker explains the human lung to a captive audience

Maya walks her family through the inner workings of
the human digestive system

Zach, Isaiah, and Sam with their lung test apparatus

Mr. Meadth also brought some high school engineering students to show off their recently completed gliders. High school 3D printers were running hot all the while, courtesy of Todd and Alena, producing Providence keychains for our guests.
Mr. Hurt, high school science teacher, measures his heart rate
alongside Ava

Heidi and Ella showing the inner workings of a cow’s eyeball,
much to the delight of visiting parents

Todd and Alena busily keeping those
printers running on behalf of the high
school Engineering Academy

With sweet treats provided by parent volunteers (thank you!) and Mrs. Luy welcoming guests at the gate, there were plenty of smiles all around. Good things are happening at Providence! For more information about middle school science, please contact Mr. Alker. For more information on our engineering programs, please contact Mr. Meadth. Don’t forget to check out the other articles on this blog, and subscribe for automatic updates.
Ella helps two elementary students fill out their scavenger hunt

Abby and Liza calculated the energy delivered in tasty snacks

Lily taught how music affects heart rate

Gliders: In Production!

A quick update on our Advanced Engineering II glider project: the students are currently hard at work translating their theoretical calculations into hand-made reality. The problem is at first daunting; how do you create the various parts of a flying machine, according to a specific design? There are dozens of materials that might be chosen for each component, and the production needs to be accurate enough and cheap enough and quick enough and repeatable enough!

Aaron lines his twenty ribs carefully
in place, ready to glue

All teams have settled on a 3D-printed rib-and-spar design for the wings, although the exact rib profile varies in size and shape. All teams are using carbon fiber square tubes for the spars (the long beams that run through from wing tip to wing tip). Some teams are planning on skinning their wing with cellophane, and others are planning on tissue paper and dope (a kind of glue that tightens and hardens the paper).

Kylie and Josh and Luke are producing
the largest, thickest ribs of all teams
(sounds delicious, in fact)

To see some interactive CAD models that Tys and Mikaela and Colby and Victor are working on, click here.

Other components, such as the undercarriage and fuselage and tail, are being made from 3D-printed parts, balsa sheets, more carbon fiber, and even colorful pipe cleaners.

Victor, Colby, and Mikaela go over the particulars of their CAD
model with Dr. Nathan Gates, retired aerospace engineer

Megan and Caleb receive valuable
advice from our classroom mentor

To help with the design process, we asked retired aerospace engineer Dr. Nathan Gates to visit our classroom. Dr. Gates moved around the different teams to consult with them. Each team explained their design, and received valuable feedback as to their construction plans. Dr. Gates’ area of expertise was structural mechanics; he was doubtlessly overqualified for this role!

Proud Providence alumna Willow looks over Gabe’s and Eva’s
wing design

To further sweeten the deal, we also asked Willow Brown, Providence alumna (2015), to come by on the same day. Willow’s sister, Kylie, is on a team with Luke and Josh. Willow is currently studying mechanical engineering at Loyola Marymount University. Did this give Kylie and her team an unfair advantage? Only time will tell.

The maiden voyage is fast approaching, so watch this space. There’s more coming up later this year, too—students will design, print, and build quadcopter drones. Stay posted, and thank you to Dr. Gates and Willow!

MS Engineering: A Photo Update

The MS Engineering students just finished their penultimate project: to build a “stock” model according to instructions, and then to program it themselves to get it to work. This is a warm-up to their final project, which sees them build and program their very own robot in The Final Challenge without any instructions or other assistance.

Enjoy the photos, and feel free to browse our other articles, most of which are focused on the high school Academy. Send your comments and questions to us at rmeadth@providencesb.org.

Ryan and Mark show off their Znap, which moves around in
random directions, snapping at anything that comes too close;
apologies for poor photography!

Gideon and Kaitlyn built a challenging Elephant, which walks
and picks up items with its articulated trunk–very impressive! 

Dennis and Tully also put together a Znap, and learned a lot
about the importance of distinguishing between sensor and
motor ports!

Kassy and Liza (absent) also built an Elephant, which had an
impressively choreographed trunk routine complete with sound
effects; we also wanted to see if it could tip over one of the
puppies 

Evan and Angel built the only Robot Arm H25; it is something
similar to a factory assembly robot, picking up and releasing
objects within its reach

Jonny and Ella put together the only Stair Climber, which was
able to successfully climb the pile of books pictured 

A (mostly) successful earlier test run of the Stair Climber

Tzevon and Paul with their own Elephant and its unique slow-
motion dance routine

Audrie and Miranda consider their robot Puppy–almost as
troublesome as the real thing! 

Jeffry and Lily describing some of the challenges of just getting
their Puppy to stand and sit–who knew it would be so much work?!

Field Trip: Santa Barbara Forge + Iron

Not far from our Upper Campus is an exciting center of creativity and design. With ties to Westmont College, Providence, and our own Mr Hurt, it’s the most natural place in the world to take our engineering students for inspiration…

Santa Barbara Forge + Iron!

Led by Dan and Andy Patterson, the people at Forge + Iron design, hammer, cut, and sculpt all manner of metal creations. You can see their work around town, most recently in the lighting fixtures at MOXI on Lower State Street.

Dan shows the ten students a piece of heavy machinery, designed
to cut through the thickest pieces of steel without blinking–no
touching allowed!

Over the din of hammers and ventilation fans, the students saw some fascinating works in progress. We found a good case study, too, where Dan had begun his designs in the CAD program SketchUp. While the students so far this year have been using a solid-based cloud CAD program called Onshape, they will be switching to SketchUp for the second semester. Creating the three-dimensional model up front allowed Dan to visualize the product, express his ideas to others, and spot potential challenges. Moreover, he was able to export particular decorative geometry from the design, and upload it to their plasma cutter to get just the right shape from the beginning.
The students look on as Dan moves the plasma cutter through its
three degrees of freedom

Computer models and computer-controlled cutting are then combined with the artistry and experience of the master; the team hammers and weathers the precision-cut piece to give it more character.
Students pass by as Andy gives attention to an iron archway,
destined for an existing window frame in Santa Barbara

The brothers’ passion for excellence in creativity came through loud and clear. Since our own students are wrapping up their Educational Design Project, where they meet with a client and work with them to develop a satisfactory 3D-printed product, the example of what this looks like in the professional world was well timed.
May we ever be inspired! Thanks to the brothers Patterson for their warm welcome, and to Mr. Rockney for coming along as an extra chaperone.

Providence Engineering Summer Camp: Robot City

What do you get when you put one teacher, three 3D printers, four high school assistants, sixteen kids, three hundred multicolored LEDs, sixteen tiny robots, and 64 square feet of plywood into two rooms for five days?!

Answer: the First Ever Providence Engineering Summer Camp!

Day 1–If You Build It, They Will Come
Pardoning the Field of Dreams misquote, Day 1 was a foray into the world of architecture and design. The upper elementary students broke into four teams, and designed their cityscape. With only a few constraints in place, they freely designed bridges, hotels, apartment complexes, playgrounds, and the mysterious “Geico district.” We’re still not sure what the market is for robot insurance.

Alena and team search architectural
magazines for inspiration

The first few buildings emerge on Day 1

Sturdy apartment complexes and hotels begin to fill the landscape

Day 2–Light It Up
After a brief lesson in electronics (diodes, conductors and resistors, oh my!), the students set about electrifying their buildings. Silver foil ran this way and that, transporting those much-needed electrons hither and yon. The prize for this day had to go to Tys’ group, with their carefully designed master control panel complete with disco dimmers.

Robot City and Britt’s Bridge come to life!
One participant’s entrepreneurial skills come to light 
Tys overseeing his team’s very
formidable end of town

Day 3–Design and Print
Arguably, they should be called 4D printers (since they operate in both space and time), but whichever side you take in this controversy, you have to agree they are a lot of fun. Students learned the fundamentals of computer-aided design (CAD), and then produced their various artifacts: signs, statues, elevators, desks, and… an artifact. The New Matter MOD-t printers ran hot for the remaining days, with many students producing two or more different designs.

An small sample of the dozens of printed designs generated by
the camp participants
Students sit with Alena, eagerly watching their creations emerge
layer by layer
A tiny blue fountain sits proudly on a street corner

Day 4–Rise of the Robots
If all that wasn’t enough already, each student was given their own tiny programmable robot. The Ozobot packs a whole lot into one cubic inch, with students writing code for following lines, flashing lights, and dance routines. The robots were programmed in two different ways: with colored racetrack lines, and then alternatively with a block-based in-browser coding language.

These colored trails give the robot a path to follow and instructions
along the way
Lots of practice with the tiny bots
The block-based coding system is a snap!
Many participants created special
mazes and challenges

Day 5–Do Over!
The week finished with a chance to go back to anything and everything! LEGO Mindstorms was used to power an elevator and merry-go-round, more CAD pieces were printed, the Geico district was finally lit up in a convincing fashion, and the robots ran amok. (In the best kind of way!)

The Geico District–now a blazing panoply of light!

Six robots come out for a dance-off!
Jake adds the finishing touches to our
once-humble board–now transformed!
We’ll finish with a huge thank you to our marvelous high school assistants, taken from the ranks of our own Engineering Academy; Tys, Jake, Alena, and Samy all did a fantastic job, and we hope they get some good rest this summer.

Final Project: Bomb Disposal Robot

The Foundations of Engineering II group finished off their year with an exciting capstone project: design, build, and program a bomb disposal robot, such as that used by special tactical groups around the world.

A real bomb disposal robot, complete with camera, manipulator
claw, and disruptor

(One quick word needs to be said from the outset: this project was carefully and sensitively planned. It was made clear to the students that this was not making light of terrorism, explosives, or other acts of crime. Rather, this was another chance to show how our engineering skills can be used to create things that combat pain and suffering and sinful acts; such robots actually keep humans out of the way of harm as much as possible.)

The students were split into three groups at random, and they set about sketching their designs, in accordance with the design brief. Each robot was required to move through the following phases:

  1. Power up and deploy, moving down a ramp.
  2. Make its way to a classroom with a “locked door” (it was made of wood and foamboard!).
  3. Break through the door and enter the hostile zone.
  4. Locate the active “bomb”, and take it back through the door to a safe location outside.
  5. Neutralize the bomb with a built-in disruptor.
    The “bomb”, made out of LEGO Mindstorms pieces, with a touch-
    sensitive touch plate on top

    Within a matter of days, the three teams had settled on their designs, and were putting together large, strong bases for their robot. Needless to say, there were no instructions to follow! Ingenuity, teamwork, and a little bit of teacher input were the tools at hand.

    Eva led her team (Colby, Todd, and David) to include the following features: a rectangular base, a balanced torque/speed arrangement for the wheels, a controllable claw to grapple with the bomb, a giant “cattle catcher” wedge to push through the door, and a chain drive to aim the disruptor up and down. Initial tests worked very well in the classroom, with a high success rate of neutralizing the bomb. Their teamwork was first-rate, with an astounding level of co-ordination and efficiency between the four of them. The team was comfortably ready in time for the demonstration.

    Eva’s team’s early design, with base and claw in place

    Colby demonstrates the surprising
    strength of the robot, dragging a stool
    across the room!

    An almost-final version, with the disruptor now mounted; note the
    chain drive to pivot and aim the disruptor

    Todd’s “cattle catcher” came out perfectly first time, made with a
    simple but beautiful loft between two triangles

    The finished product, ready and raring
    to go!

    Alena had her first chance at leadership so far this year, with Jakob, Samy, and Claire working alongside. Their robot went for a rectangular base, a higher speed at the wheels, a forklift to actually raise the bomb off the floor to carry it, and a fixed angle for their disruptor. They were then able to use their extra motor to build a high-speed 3D-printed circular saw, for breaking through the foamboard door. That’s right–a 3D-printed circular saw! Extra code was built in to ensure that the saw would only activate with a very intentional button sequence!

    An early version of Alena’s team’s solution, with a solid base
    constructed (note the “omni-wheels” that allow the robot to more
    easily pivot left and right)

    Alena works on her CAD pieces, Jakob writes code, and Samy
    “checks the disruptor for functionality”

    An early outdoor test; note the addition
    of a forklift system on the front

    The forklift and fixed disruptor are now clearly visible

    Claire works to add in the 3D-printed circular saw

    Yes, this actually did work! (Slowly…)

    Lastly, Josh led his team (Ben, Victor, and Alec) to good success with a larger, more square-ish base, a simple but highly effective spike for punching through the door, an extremely low-speed/high-torque gearing for the wheels, a claw to grab the bomb, and a chain drive to aim their disruptor. They went for the slow-but-strong approach, which made perfect sense for a challenge where time was not a mandated constraint.

    The early days of Josh’s team’s design, with the highest torque to
    the wheels of any team (the tiny gear coming from the black motors
    to the large gears at the wheels ensures this)

    Later on, a manipulator claw was added, as well as a powerful
    spike, designed by Alec

    Josh instructs his team in proper safety protocol, as Victor looks
    and Alec attaches the disruptor

    The final stages, with a chain drive now added to the disruptor

    While all this was happening over the course of several weeks, the teacher assistants Aaron and Kylie put together the door itself, complete with 3D-printed working hinges and deadbolt. Their woodworking skills were put to good use in building a simple frame to hold it all together.

    The frame and foamboard door; note the hot pink 3D-printed
    working hinges and deadbolt, courtesy of Kylie’s design skills

    On the day of the demonstration, the young engineers eagerly followed along behind the robots as they drove one by one up to the door. After much pushing, and ramming, and cutting, all three robots were able to break through and enter the room. Of special note was Alena’s 7″ diameter circular saw, which took about two or three minutes to shred the deadbolt!

    Eva’s team attempts to push through the door with brute force and
    the “wedge” principle

    Alena’s team gets ready to cut through the door; note the cyan
    spike added to the rear as a backup plan

    Josh’s team pushes through quickly with a simple spike

    The robots located the bomb, flashing and beeping in the dark. The bomb was rigged with a pressure-sensitive touchplate on the top, which would have activated if the bomb was fumbled. All teams successfully took the bomb outside with no incident (other than the wind blowing the door shut again!).

    Eva’s team drags the bomb cautiously away towards the door,
    Colby at the wheel

    Alena’s team’s unique forklift method worked perfectly, deftly
    carrying the bomb to the exit

    Josh’s team pulls the bomb over some tricky terrain and back
    through the door

    With the bomb safely outside away from civilians, the robots aimed their air-powered disruptors at the bomb. This is a real tactic that bomb disposal robots use; the idea is that a quick blast from a shotgun shell should immediately destroy all triggers and batteries and other mechanisms, thereby preventing the actual detonation.

    Eva’s group and Alena’s group took a few shots to disarm the bomb (the trigger plate didn’t “feel” their bullets enough to switch off), and Josh’s team got it first try!

    Eva’s team squares up, trying to find the best angle

    Alena’s team hugs the package tightly, and goes in for the finish

    Josh’s team readies, aims, and fires!
    Eva, David, Colby, and Todd celebrate a job well done!

    Jakob, Claire, Alena, and Samy proudly pose behind their robot

    Ben, Alec, Josh, and Victor enjoy a job well done

    All teams are to be congratulated on a solid, successful performance. The growth exhibited by these students throughout the year is phenomenal–where they once were fumbling with the most basic code lines and how to attach pieces, they now moved through it swiftly and expertly, with a minimum of guidance from the teacher. No teams suffered critical failure, as some had on previous projects, and it was a delight to see the hard work paying off.

    If you want to watch the entire play in action, please access them in this shared folder. You are welcome to download or watch online–the videos of each team are over ten minutes long!

    Excellent work all, and we’ll see you next year!

    From left to right: Mr. Meadth, Kylie (T.A.), Jakob, Alena, Samy, Claire, Eva,
    David, Colby, Todd, Alec, Victor, Josh, Aaron (T.A.); (Ben absent)

    Project Demonstration: RC Cars On Lower Campus

    Elementary school students at our Lower Campus received a special treat last Friday when the students of the Foundations of Engineering II class demonstrated their latest project: remote-controlled cars. Utilizing much of the same equipment as the self-driving car project of last semester (i.e. the Vex robotics kits, CAD, and lots of trial and error), three teams of students constructed cars that they operated via a video game controller. After many weeks of hard work, multiple prototypes, and perseverance, the cars could move forwards, backwards, and turn on a dime with rack-and-pinion steering (well, maybe a silver dollar). Each car also had a built-in payload delivery system that deposited a 3D-printed figure at the push of a button, and a rear-wheel differential gearbox to allow for better cornering.

    The afternoon’s proceedings began with a brief introduction of the project to the 5th and 6th Grade students, given by the engineering students’ teacher, Mr. Rodney Meadth. Mr. Meadth outlined the goals of the project and recounted some of the difficulties the students faced during the design process.

    Mr. Meadth warms up the crowd before the demonstration


    During Mr. Meadth’s introduction, the three teams of students worked diligently to set up their cars. As with the self-driving car project, each of the three teams comprised four students, with distinct roles as follows:

    • Team Leader: co-ordinate efforts, give attention wherever needed, be an all-around expert in everything.
    • Mechanical Engineer: primarily responsible for building the physical structure of the robot, mounting sensors, and attaching custom parts.
    • Programmer: working on code that will navigate the robot around the course, incorporating sensor feedback and motor outputs to ensure success.
    • CAD Specialist: design custom parts in a CAD program (all students used Onshape), and then print them out for use in actuality.


    Team ESTA makes their final preparations (Eva, Samy, Todd, Alena)

    After the introduction, the teams each performed a solo demonstration of their vehicle. The demonstration consisted of navigating a course and delivering the car’s payload to a marked target area on the floor.

    First up was Team ESTA, with Eva, Samy, Todd, and Alena. After placing their vehicle at the starting line, the team carefully drove through the course towards the payload drop-off zone. With some slight course adjustments, ESTA managed to successfully deposit their payload, showing off their unique hinged box delivery system. Alena worked for weeks and went through several prototypes to ensure the hinges mated correctly, and could be driven by a VEX motor. Her online CAD file is publicly available here–you can even open and close the box by grabbing the lid with your mouse!

    Next came Team JABS (Josh, Alec, Ben, David), whose car intimidated the competition with bright orange, spiked hubcaps and a crimson racing flag bearing their team name. They too successfully navigated the course and delivered the payload, though at a slightly slower pace than that of Team ESTA.
    The Team JABS car living up to its team
    name with some intimidating spiked hubcaps, designed by Alec


    After overcoming some controller connection issues, the final team, JCVC (Jakob, Colby, Victor, Claire), demonstrated their car. JCVC’s vehicle was the simplest of the three, lacking the adornments or sophisticated payload system of the other two competitors, but what it lacked in sophistication, it made up in the form of speed, being the fastest of the three to complete the assigned task.

    With the end of the individual demonstrations, came the main event of the day: a race between the three cars around the track to determine which team had built the best remote controlled car. The elementary school students were abuzz with delight as the three teams lined up their vehicles at the starting line. The question on everyone’s mind: Who will be victorious? 

    The tension is palpable as the cars take their starting positions
    for the race; from left to right: JABS, ESTA, JVCV


    With a shout of, “Go!” from Mr. Meadth, the cars raced down the track. However, the chances of victory for one team were extinguished in mere seconds. Team JABS, despite an impressive showing in the individual demonstrations, suffered an immediate steering malfunction that, in spite of their best troubleshooting efforts, ultimately kept them out of the race. The two remaining cars continued to zoom around the track, largely neck and neck for several laps.

    In a huge upset, Team JCVC suddenly suffered a critical mishap! As Team JABS attempted to resolve their steering issues on the track, they (accidentally?) managed to ram the “emergency off” button on the side of JCVC! This left only one car still standing, still making consistently strong laps. Team ESTA ended by pulling confidently into the drop-off zone and depositing their payload perfectly, eliciting a roar of applause from the 5th and 6th Grade!

    Team ESTA members Samy, Alena, Todd, and Eva revel
    in their victory

    After the race’s conclusion, Mr. Meadth brought up the winning team and opened the session up to questions from the audience. When asked by one of the Lower Campus students how one goes about making a project of this difficulty, Team Leader Eva encouraged the student to, “always ask for help, be patient, plan stuff out, and don’t be afraid of failure.” Programmer Todd answered a question about the coding process by calling for perseverance amidst “a lot of failures” in order to eventually find success.

    The RC car demonstration on Lower Campus was a thrill for all in attendance, from the delighted elementary students to their cheering teachers. Well done to all teams for the many weeks of hard work leading up to this, and especially to Team ESTA!

    Robo Puppies

    Meet Astro and Cookie–they don’t eat much and they won’t mess up your house. They will, however, bark and sit and nod their heads, and maybe even roll over!

    The star attractions at our table; note the colored “bone” used to give commands
    to the two puppies

    Last Friday, Astro and Cookie–and their human handlers of course–were invited to come play with the elementary students at El Montecito School, as part of their Techsploration Day. Twelve groups of ELMO students came to visit the robot puppies one by one, and everyone saw just how easy it is to write code and have fun!

    Four of our high school engineering students (Jake, Caleb, Tys, and Sarah Jane) guided the El Montecito students through a ten-minute crash course in robot programming. Our students asked the younger ones what they wanted each puppy to do…

    Sit up?

    Bark?

    Nod its head?

    Blink its eyes?

    Say what color was in front of it?

    Roar like a T-Rex?

    Jake and Caleb show the younger students how Astro receives his coded instructions

    After writing in this command, the students then included some sort of trigger in the code, again asking the younger ones what that trigger should be…

    Show the puppy a specific color?

    Pat it on the back?

    Press the buttons on the front?

    Sarah Jane explains the finer points of Cookie’s
    inner workings

    In just a few minutes, the older students were able to write the program described, all shown in full color as it was being done. It downloaded instantly via Bluetooth, and the students could see the outcome. Astro ran on the spot, and Cookie nodded approvingly. Astro sat up when he saw red, and Cookie showed off by naming any of four colors shown to her.

    This simple code 1) waits for the color green to be shown to the sensor, 2) plays
    the sound file “Dog bark 1”, and 3) runs the motor to raise the head

    Sarah Jane, Jake, Caleb, Tys, and Mr. Meadth (rear)
    Astro and Cookie (front)

    Many thanks to Tim Loomer, Colette Crafton, and all the staff at El Montecito for receiving us, and running a highly successful Techsploration Day. The rain couldn’t dampen anyone’s spirits, and it was a delight to see the meaningful collaboration between the two Christian schools.

    Project: The Self-Driving Car

    We’ve recently reported on the Advanced Engineering I playground design project, but what exactly is keeping the younger group busy right now? If you pass by Room 401 most any afternoon, you’ll find twelve freshmen and sophomores, six computers, three VEX robotics sets, two T.A.s, and one teacher very hard at work! The project? It’s a little ambitious, but we are intending to design, build, and program three self-driving robot cars, in the manner of Google, Uber, Tesla, and a few others.

    Just another typical day of class in the Providence Engineering Academy

    The way of the future! But first a bit of background. Robotic cars fall into two broad categories: smart cars and smart roads. Smart car systems have all of the design and engineering and intelligence in the car itself, relying on GPS, lots of sensors, and careful programming. By contrast, smart road systems have some sort of marker built into the road itself to provide information to the car–one idea proposed in the past was to have magnets embedded into the road surface. While all companies are now putting all of their efforts into the “smart car” option, ours fall into the “smart road” category; we have a white line track on a dark background that shows the car where it needs to go. No white line means no navigation.

    Left: the design brief and the plans for the roadway; right: the actual roadway,
    newly constructed, mounted on an 8 foot by 8 foot plywood base

    So what does it take to get this going? The number one resource is human intelligence; each of the three teams comprises four students, with distinct roles as follows:

    • Team Leader: co-ordinate efforts, give attention wherever needed, be an all-around expert in everything, and keep a daily Captain’s Log.
    • Mechanical Engineer: primarily responsible for building the physical structure of the robot, mounting sensors, and attaching custom parts.
    • Programmer: working on code that will navigate the robot around the course.
    • CAD Specialist: design custom parts in a CAD program, and then print them out for use in actuality.
    The beauty of this is that each member necessarily must work together with the others to achieve the outcome. The mechanical engineer needs input from the programmer as to where to place the sensors so that they work with the written code. The CAD specialist needs to also work with the mechanical engineer to decide what is most needed and where it should be placed. The team leader needs to choose just how to spread themselves each day to get the current priorities in order.
    Ben (left) working on code; David (center) attaching his wheels to the frame

    Samy, one of the mechanical engineers, putting together a frame for his
    team’s vehicle

    Each team was allowed to choose between two types of steering design: rack and pinion, or a simpler design where the entire wheel and axle rotates around a central pivot. All three teams went for the rack and pinion, which is the same design found on modern cars. A single gear (the “pinion”) rotates on a flat linear gear (the “rack”), which pushes it left or right, in turn causing the front wheels to point in either direction.
    The custom CAD parts are another particularly exciting part of this project: the three CAD specialists are using the online platform Onshape to make pieces that are specific to their own robot. Just for fun, one team created a license plate with their team name, which is now proudly mounted on the front. Two teams are currently working on a box to hold a payload to be delivered along the route. The third team created a “shadow shield” to go underneath the vehicle and keep the line-sensing infrared sensors out of direct sunlight to make them more effective. The CAD specialists had to create bolt holes that match with the VEX robotics system, and they have infinite control over everything else.
    One team’s container design, intended to hold a small payload; a door is going
    to be added to keep things secure until delivery

    Another team’s payload device is an open tray which flips up to release
    upon command; note the square axle hole for connection to the motor

    Both of the above designs are printed full size; so far, it looks like they will
    be perfect!
    The teams have another couple of weeks to finish this project, and they look to be on schedule for completion and demonstration.
    Mr Meadth also decided that it would be fair for him to produce a proof of concept–can this really be done, after all? He used one of the spare middle school LEGO sets, which has an array of similar sensors and mechanical capability, but a very different coding language.
    LEGO Mindstorms coding language–colourful blocks that snap together!

    RobotC coding language, as used by the high school students–lines
    and lines of colour-coded text
    After a few hours of work, he came up with this smaller LEGO version, and it gets around the full track in about 18 seconds on its slowest, most cautious speed.
    The LEGO robot car in action–note the three colour sensors in a bank on the
    front; having three side-by-side allows for more sensitivity in response to the
    car’s exact position
    Proof positive–it can be done! Upon completion, the robots will be demonstrated to the Providence community; we may go down to Lower Campus and show one of the elementary grades what we’ve done. Stay tuned.

      Bridges, Cranes, Robots

      After some humble beginnings to the semester (Newton’s Laws, basic structural mechanics, and gear ratios), we have had a string of exciting projects in our middle school engineering elective. Within the last few weeks, students have built railway bridges, designed high-torque crane systems, and are now writing code for simple three-wheeled robots.

      Mr Meadth stands watch over the first train journey of the day–all is well!
      The Bridge Challenge had students demonstrate their understanding of structural rigidity. The students were told that triangular structures are inherently rigid, and can’t change shape without breaking. They also identified the bridge as being primarily subject to bending loads, in which case it is best to build a bridge that is tall.
      (For all you engineers out there, they learned to use a cross-section with a high second moment of area!)

      Another bridge with an underslung truss system

      Asher and Christine carefully plan out their triangular structures
      From here, we looked at the interplay between torque and rotational speed. Anyone who has ridden a bike with gears or driven a manual shift car understands that different gear arrangements really do produce a change in outcome–you shift down gears to pedal up a steep hill. Our middle school students calculated various gear ratios, and also felt the hands-on difference, thanks to Jake’s Educational Design project from last year.

      Zach and Isaiah feel the increase/decrease in torque for a 3:1 ratio
      The lessons in gears were put to the test in the Crane Challenge, where students used the EV3 Medium Motor to raise as much weight as possible. The structure had to be strong enough to hold the weight (think triangles and rigidity again), and the gear ratios had to be reduced down one or two or even three times. Bottom line: a slower crane is a stronger crane!

      Zach and Sam added a few “characters” to their
      impressive submission, and were able to
      raise 800 grams (almost 2 lb)

      Lily and Isabela and “The Giraffe”; they raised
      a total of 300 grams

      Currently, students are working with a basic robot called the “Robot Educator”. This three-wheeled design is built from instructions, and is for the purpose of learning basic programming skills. The students are learning to tell the robot to move forward/backward, turn around, raise and lower its front trap, and make noises. They are also finding out about loops and conditions and switches, which help make programs more sophisticated. All of this experience will be used later in the semester as the teams design, build, and program their own robot.

      Seven Robot Educators, lined up and ready for action!

      More to come, so stay tuned!