MS Engineering: The Final Challenge!

Wow! What an incredible display of robotic strength and fortitude! Mr. Meadth would like to thank all of the eighteen middle school students who worked so hard and waited so long to show their programming prowess. Many thanks also to all of the many parents who came to watch.

Mr. Meadth watches for adherence to the rules of competition
as Kassy and Miranda head off against Tzevon and Mark
Tully and Dennis make the final checks as Audrie and Jeffry
prepare their program

Miranda and Kassy with the biggest, blockiest
bot of them all!

After a gripping round of preliminaries, it was clear that Jon and Ella were not to be beaten, consistently needing only 43 seconds both times to get all three cubes in the goal. Ryan and Gideon zoomed down the line with double wins, as fast as 37 seconds. Kassy and Miranda took it slow and steady, but won both matches with an average of 2:19. A special qualifying round also put Liza and Kaitlyn through with their prize horse, with a record-breaking 18 seconds!

Tully and Dennis proudly showing their machine

Ryan and Gideon were very proud of their
geared-up racer
In the elimination round, Liza and Kaitlyn beat out Jon and Ella with a lightning-fast 21 seconds. The secret? High speed gear ratios, where Jon and Ella stuck to direct drive. And in a stunning upset, Ryan and Gideon lost out–despite their high speed gears–to the perfectly consistent Kassy and Miranda, who beat their previous times by over a minute!
Mark and Tzevon designed a conveyor belt to
get their cubes in the box

Jeffry and Audrie went for the “tall tricycle” design

In an all-girl final round, Liza and Kaitlyn made the first drop. But they fumbled the second, and Kassy and Miranda faithfully dropped theirs in the box to equal the scores. A couple of unforced errors, some bouncing out, and the scores were again tied at two all! In the end, however, nothing could stop the speed and accuracy of Liza and Kaitlyn, who wrapped it all up with an impressive time of 49 seconds! Well done, girls!
For more photos and videos, students can use their Providence Google accounts to check out Miss Hurlbert’s online folder, here.

From left to right (rear): Mr. Meadth, Gideon, Jeffry, Audrie,
Kassy, Miranda, Liza, Kaitlyn, Ella, Lily, Paul, Angel
Front: Jon, Evan

MS Engineering: The First Month

The popularity of the middle school engineering program at Providence has really taken off this year; for the first time, we will be admitting eighteen students in both first and second semester! It’s our largest class size yet for this program, which is exciting. But what exactly, I hear you ask, are students doing in that class?

We kicked off the year with some pretty standard stuff. Newton’s Laws kept us busy for a little while, talking about how objects in this universe move and interact. The highlight of this unit would have to be the inertia demonstration. Remove one tablecloth very quickly from underneath a dinner set, and hope that inertia does its job! Ryan was a very cooperative test subject.

The students also started the year with some simple challenges, focusing on teamwork, speed, and intuitive design. How many textbooks can you hold up, at least five inches off the table, using only two sheets of paper and a yard of tape? By the way, you only have two minutes to plan and three minutes to build! The class record is 26, held by Josh and Pedro a couple of years ago, but hats off this year to Audrie and Kassy, holding 12 books six inches high. At 3.6 pounds per textbook, that’s 43 pounds!

Paul and Lily look on as Ella places her third book; unfortunately,
it was the straw that broke the camel’s back

The most recent challenge was to build a bridge between two desks. After learning some basic principles of structural mechanics (triangle rigidity and maximizing the second moment of area of the cross-section), the students set about the task. We always talk in terms of constraints in this class, and the various constraints were as follows:

Materials:
Only allowed to use LEGO beams from a provided parts list
Time:
Three days of class
Personnel:
Teams of two
Length:
As long as possible (maximize)
Load:
Must support wooden train tracks (static load) and a motorized train running across it (dynamic load)
Other:
Must demonstrate the principles of good bending structures that we talked about
After breaking into teams, the students quickly set about collecting their pieces, and sketching their designs. Our enthusiastic students snapped together beams and frames, doing their best to imitate the rigid triangular structures they had been shown.
Gideon, Liza, and Kaitlyn working hard!

Tensions ran high (no pun intended) as the heavy little locomotive crawled across the tracks. The length of the bridges varied widely, from the shortest at 30 cm (1 ft) to the longest at 99 cm (over 3 ft). But most importantly: would the helpless engine tumble into the chasm?

The little engine thought it could, and so did Dennis and Jeffry,
with their sharply defined triangles clearly showing

Audrey and Kassy almost lost their load, but everything held
together in the end!

Miranda and Evan held their breath as the locomotive crawled
across their creation
In fact, although we desperately wanted to see some disaster, not a single one of the bridges failed! This is a new record in the engineering elective, and perhaps a tribute to their collective wisdom and skill (or maybe to their teacher?).
The next challenge? Use their knowledge of torque and rotation to build a crane that can lift as much load as possible.
Kassy and Evan carefully plan their motorized crane
Ella applies the power of a protractor

Dennis and Paul take a break from the drawing board to pose
for the camera

Tully and Liza consider Mr. Meadth’s past designs
Stay tuned, and don’t forget to ask your students how the work is coming!

Alain Clenet: Inventor and Entrepreneur

In May of this year, the Foundations of Engineering II group had the delightful privilege of hearing from Mr. Alain Clenet, a local inventor. Not wanting anyone to miss out on the lifetime of wisdom this man has to offer, we arranged for him to come back again and speak to the Advanced Engineering II group. The class is studying flight and aerodynamics, and so Mr. Clenet began with a few technical lessons on the aerodynamics of some of his past inventions.

Alain Clenet describes the aerodynamics of 4WD differentials
and Japanese Maglev trains

After discussing some of his inventions for reducing turbulence drag on large trucks, Mr. Clenet described to the students how they might possibly gain patents for their own ideas and inventions. Mr. Clenet holds over 100 patents, and is eager for young entrepreneurs to publish their ideas and safeguard them.

Eva asks Mr. Clenet a question about his projects

Mr. Clenet also cautioned the students against making money their primary goal, warning that money, while absolutely necessary, is no good thing to live for. The students gladly received his advice, along with his many stories!

Mr. Clenet enjoys a picture with the entire Advanced Engineering II
class, from left to right: Claire, Victor, Eva, Gabe, Caleb, Aaron,
Kylie, Megan, Mr. Meadth, Josh, Colby, Mikaela and Tys (front)

Thank you, Alain, for visiting our Academy once again, and thank you students for receiving our visitor so warmly. Keep those inventions coming!

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)

    Guest Speaker: Alain Clenet

    The Foundations of Engineering II class recently took a break between major projects to hear from a local inventor, Mr. Alain Clenet. A friend of Dr. Scott Lisea, Mr. Clenet came in to share with the students some highlights of his life’s work, and also some sage advice.

    Mr. Alain Clenet showing one of his first projects, a car body he
    designed at age 20 during his university years

    Mr. Clenet’s charge to the students, in looking back over a lifetime of designing mechanical systems, was simple and to the point: “Be kind, be honorable, and take risks.” He went on to describe some of the many inventions he had produced: cars, a speedboat, tent systems, sheet metal beams, fabric houses, and his production line of luxury cars made right here in Santa Barbara County. He alluded to many difficulties as well as successes, and shared also of his strong faith in Jesus Christ.

    A 1979 Series I neo-classic model from Clenet Coachworks
    (Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

    Students eagerly listening to his tales of business and engineering

    At the end of our time together, Todd went up to show Mr. Clenet the remote-controlled car that he had programmed. Mr. Clenet affirmed the students in their vehicle designs, and handed out his personal card, encouraging them to contact him if they had great ideas for inventions that they might want his help with.

    We hope that Mr. Clenet can come again soon, and offer his wisdom to the students for their final major project. Many thanks!

    MS Science and Engineering Expo Photos

    Thanks to all students, parents, and teachers for another incredible evening! The quality of the exhibits was high, and we could tell you worked hard. Enjoy the photos and videos below–you can click/tap on them to enlarge.

    Tessa and Chloe show their Rube Goldberg dog feeding machine

    Small children are enthralled!

    The dogs enjoyed the show, too

    A functional, hand-cranked, 3D-printed
    Archimedean Screw

     

    Jed and Ben show Lower Campus students their French Revolution
    demonstration–fruit was definitely harmed in the making of this
    exhibit!

     

    …but put to good use in the
    Blender Bicycle by Cate and Valeria!
    Don’t forget to hold that lid on!

     

    Mercy and Jenny help Mrs. Short to understand key principles of
    buoyancy, density, and mass–looks like exciting stuff!

    Christine and Ashlynne with their impressive pulley arrangements

    Pedro and Julian with their LEGO version of the legendary
    Claw of Archimedes

    Lux and Olivia put together this
    impressive homemade hydraulic
    robot arm–well done, girls!

    Selene, Mr. Hougo, and Asher prepare a live demonstration of
    a compound pulley system

    Doing fine, three feet off the ground
    Also doubles as a “time out” device
    for small children (it’s all right–it’s
    Mr. Meadth’s son)
    Caleb and Michael explored another
    apocryphal war engine: the Archimedes
    Death Ray!

     

    Chloe and Ava with a motorized Aerial Screw, taken straight from
    the pages of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook

    Kayode and Josh lift 80 pounds of concrete and steel with a 3:1
    mechanical advantage

    Dylan and Jordan produced another
    engine of war: the tennis ball ballista!

    Sam and Tommy with their homemade motorized paper plane
    launcher!  Standard equipment for every boy aged 5 to 105

     

    Belen and Erica with an array of
    marshmallow catapults

    A surprising number of marshmallows never made it to the catapults

    When Mr. Alker’s son wasn’t eating them, Mr. Alker was

    Deacon and Chris were popular with
    the racing crowd, tracking time, speed,
    momentum, and kinetic energy

    Julian and Zak loading a high-tension catapult, constructed entirely
    of steel frame–be sure to watch the videos!

    Once again, well done 8th Grade! Finish the year strong, and we’ll do this again next year.

    MS Science and Engineering Expo–Monday!

    The Providence Engineering Academy and the MS Science Department are excited to present the second annual Middle School Science and Engineering Expo. It will be held at the Providence Upper Campus (630 East Canon Perdido Street) on Monday, April 24 from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm. Entry is free, and refreshments will be provided.

    Levers, pulleys, and screws, oh my! The theme is “Machines”, with a medieval/Renaissance twist. The students have spent a month preparing their projects, building catapults, pulley systems, Archimedean war engines, and more. The interactive exhibits will be running the entire time, so come learn and support our students at this fun, family-friendly event!

    Erica and Belen carefully design their catapult poster
    Dylan with his very impressive
    tennis ball ballista

    Science history buffs might recognize this one–Eureka!

    Julian with an almost-finished Archimedean war engine

    Is that a blender on the back of that bike, Valeria? Smoothie to go!

    Chloe with a scale model of Leonardo’s aerial screw

    (Many thanks to Kylie from the Providence Engineering Academy for helping write this article.)