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!

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.

Wild West Town—Completed!

If you’ve visited the Providence Lower Campus in the last couple of weeks, you might have noticed an exciting new development in the Grove. Lo and behold, the Providence Engineering Academy has completed its children’s playground project—and just in time for the new year!


The completed project, in place at the Lower Campus Grove

For those who have been following along, you’ll notice that this project has moved through different stages through the year. Our original plan from the first day of school was to have the six Advanced Engineering I students design and build a children’s playground for the Grove. The students met with Mr. Knoles as the client, came up with a woodsy theme, wrote and received a grant from the local EnergyPartners Fund, learned about California safety standards, created a detailed CAD model, constructed a physical 1:16 model to put on display, and ran many structural calculations to inform their design. For more details of where we got to, check out this post from February.

After a couple of months, we realized that although the plans were solid, there were a lot more moving parts in the mix than could be resolved this year. Having already received our grant for materials and tools, and having a month of the school year still set aside for construction, we quickly changed tack. The students brainstormed along different lines: what could we design and build that would be small, fast, portable, safe, and a ton of fun?

Answer: the Wild West town!

In an amazing display of teamwork and ingenuity, the six students (Aaron, Tys, Sarah Jane, Kylie, Caleb, and senior Jake) quickly produced a set of plans to communicate the idea to our client and provide useful tools for estimating, purchasing, and construction.

Front view: restaurant, shop, house

The town would be built in two sections, each 12 feet long, about 5 feet high, and 4 feet deep. Six distinct rooms would be included: a restaurant, a general store, a residential home, a train station, a sheriff’s office, and a jail.

Perspective: train station, sheriff, jail (CAD model unfinished)

With approval from the Lower School, the students set to work. Bethany Bodenhamer, one of our industrious Lower School parents, negotiated with Home Depot and coordinated the deliveries of tools and lumber. Marty Robertson graciously allowed us the use of his miter saw for the entire duration of the construction. Peter Bohlinger also loaned many high quality tools used throughout the construction.

And so the work began! The backyard of the Upper Campus was converted to a scene of enthusiastic creativity. The six students, with their varying levels of experience, quickly grew in their confidence in measuring, cutting, and attaching the lumber—and always with safety eyewear, of course!


The play structure develops over the course of several weeks

When school let out in June, the students had made a terrific start on the structural framing, and some of the siding. Who knew that trigonometry had practical application?!

From left to right: Tys, Jake, Aaron, Kylie, and Caleb

In this image, the CAD model has been added as an overlay
to help visualize the final product

Clockwise from top: Aaron, Kylie, Sarah Jane, Tys, and Caleb
show off their craftsmanship

The restaurant nears completion (left); the framing for the railway
station, sheriff, and jail is practically complete

The reverse angle view in the backyard

Once summer came, others pitched in to help. Visiting alumnus and founding member of the Providence Engineering Academy Gabe Clark worked alongside Jake and Tys; Mr. Hurt brought his wife (great with child) and parents; Mr. Meadth’s son Asher even lent a hand!

Tys (in the window), Jake (middle) and Gabe helped secure the
roof and siding for the general store

Five Hurts across three generations! This family means business

Dad got them started, and Asher finished them off

A good deal of work was also done on adding finishing touches—it’s the little things that count!


A double-swinging door for the restaurant, just to give that classic
kickin’-in-the-door outlaw feel

A sink and counter adds the homely touch

Solid steel bars divide the sheriff from his catch of the day

The ticket counter for the railway station sports wrought-iron
decorative work

In case there was any mistaking which one was the sheriff’s office!

Finally, five strong friends of the school helped Mr. Meadth load the four separate pieces and transport them to the Lower Campus—one 500 lb piece at a time. After a bit of practice, the complete round trip was timed at 40 minutes! Of course, Ms. Svoboda was on hand to document the experience.


Ready—lift! Is that one of our new 7th Graders?

We certainly turned heads driving down State Street!

A place for everything and everything in its place!

A final word of thanks goes out to two parties. The EnergyPartners Fund generously provided what was necessary to go out and do this. They have been loyal supports of our program for several years now, and we are indebted to them. And naturally, well done to the six young engineers who envisioned this, designed it, and sweated it out. Mack Fixler at MOXI and his high-powered laser cutter have ensured that their place of honor will stand for time immemorial.

Thanks, EnergyPartners Fund!

Six strangely familiar villains, immortalized through the
magic of lamination and synchronized photons

Who knows what the coming year will bring? Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog, and we’ll let you know! And go explore the Wild West town next time you’re there; you won’t be disappointed.

Til next time!

Grant Awarded: EnergyPartners Fund

As part of their Community Design Project, the six members of the Advanced Engineering I class worked jointly on a grant request to a local organization, the EnergyPartners Fund. This grant, totaling $1,500, was aimed at purchasing the necessary raw materials and tools for actually building the planned play structure.

Just to be clear, it was Jake, Caleb, Tys, Aaron, Sarah Jane, and Kylie who were tasked with writing this grant—no teachers involved! Three teams of two drafted three separate grant requests, and then Mr Meadth took the best answers for each question and collated them into one official proposal.

We won’t leave you in suspense… the grant request was accepted by the EnergyPartners Fund in full! Tys volunteered to travel up to Santa Maria with Mr and Mrs Meadth, and accept the award in person at the stylish Presqu’ile Winery.

Mr Meadth and Tys in front of the EnergyPartners Fund sponsor sign

The simple ceremony showcased a variety of STEM education projects happening around Santa Barbara county. Students from local schools are working on VEX robots just as we are, and the nearly-open downtown MOXI museum received funds for professional-grade 3D printers (this museum will be a possible service opportunity for our own students). We also met with a representative of the Maritime Museum, and learned about their interesting historical education programs. And if you haven’t heard of Riviera Robotics, the local robotics team run entirely by students, you should check them out; two of their members were present to receive their award.

All in all, lots of great connections, and we are very grateful to the many sponsors of the EnergyPartners Fund for promoting the work we are doing! Thanks once again to the talented students who represented Providence in such a convincing way.