A Tour of JPL


(This is the eighth in a series of blog articles written by the Providence Engineering Academy students. Pedro in 11th grade reflects on his experience at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena on our class field trip earlier this year.)


“The trip was really inspiring way above expectations. I enjoyed the chance to see where they work, and the 2020 rover was a memory I will never forget.”

“It really re-awoke the third grade Nolan in me. The rover around Saturn replica was cool to see, it was a great experience, and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to go.”

These are the words Josh and Nolan stated about our class trip to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). JPL was a fun and interesting experience, and in our tour we got to learn and see things that we’ve never seen before.

First off, we saw a video that was amazing to watch. This video showed us the gigantic size of the whole universe and taught us that most of it hasn’t been explored. It also showed some satellites and spacecraft that were launched into space, and we were able to look at smaller scaled models of these around the room.

Our host shows the various scale models of historical space probes

Next, we got to see the control room, which was full of screens and numbers. This is the room where they gather information from every spacecraft, rover, and satellite. It is also the place from which they controlled the landing of the Mars rover, Curiosity, in 2012—which we learned was a really terrifying seven minutes for these hard workers! 

The control center, from which every robotic space mission
has been monitored
Then, we got to see photos from one of the rovers on Mars. These photos had been taken just hours earlier and we got to see them on a screen!

After that, we got to see the construction of the 2020 Mars rover. Amazing! We learned that anyone that is eighteen or under can get their name applied on the 2020 rover.

The rover being constructed inside a “clean room”
Our final stop was the gift shop, which sold “space” ice cream, sweaters, and some cool toys for your kids. Overall, JPL was a fun and really cool experience for all of us.

Space: The Final Frontier

(This is the second in a series of blog articles written by the Providence Engineering Academy students. In the light of our recent trip to Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Ben in 12th Grade describes some of the history and future of space exploration.)

The concept of space travel has captured the public eye since the late 1800s with science fiction. As humans learned to blow things up in a certain direction more effectively, what was once science fiction became science speculation and from there we continued in our search for what lies beyond.

The entire group poses inside the famous JPL facility
On September 25, 2019, the Providence Engineering Academy was given the opportunity to take a glimpse into our country’s efforts to see just what else God has created in our universe at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. We humans, as stewards of creation, have a special role in discovery and advancement of our world, and this stewardship is taken seriously at JPL. They have produced deep space telescopes, orbital telescopes, weather telescopes, rovers, etc. for this exact purpose.
Our host stands next to the life-size (non-functional!) sister of
the currently active Mars rover, Curiosity
Mankind continues our search for life on other worlds as JPL designs their next Mars rover, set for launch in 2020. This rover is designed to search the soil of Mars for any signs of life. As an engineering student, I am greatly inspired by the efforts that we as stewards make to find out more about our neighboring planets. Scientists are also hoping to research the seas of Europa, one of the largest moons of Jupiter, to see if there is any life below the outer icy shell. Since there are large bodies of water on Europa, many scientists wonder if creatures live there, just as there is sea life on earth.
Our host shares the incredible history of space exploration from
this site, with a scale model of the Cassini probe in the background
Meanwhile, deep-space telescopes have been expanding the radius of what we know. There are upcoming missions for my generation to develop, based on all of the ground-breaking work done by the gifted scientists at JPL and other locations. One such mission is to develop a telescope to photograph other solar systems so that we can see if there are similar planets to Earth in those systems.
We deeply appreciated the enthusiasm and brilliance on display at JPL, and we wait with anticipation for what the future might hold—perhaps we’ll be a part of it!

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.

In the Steps of Orville and Wilbur

The Advanced Engineering II group has a unique and challenging task in front of them. In fact, it is quite possible that none of the students has ever undertaken something quite like this: a group project that lasts from September to March—designing and building a model glider!

The students have been hard at work learning the fundamentals of aerodynamics, as applied to conventional aircraft. They understand Bernoulli’s principle, the momentum shift theory of lift, what induced drag is, and why most modern aircraft have those little turned-up ends on their wings. They know the value of the theoretical lift curve slope, and how much lift an uncambered airfoil produces at a zero angle of attack, and they can check it all in a virtual wind tunnel test! Impressed yet?!

Luke (11th) and Kylie (12th) consult their extensive course notes
as they work on the detailed design spreadsheet

Divided up into four teams, the students have just put the finishing touches on their complex design spreadsheet, which describes in precise detail the various features of the glider they are going to build. Each glider will be thrown from the top of the science lab building onto our field, carrying a single (unboiled!) egg to safety as far downfield as possible. The plane that successfully flies the farthest and lands safely wins!

Tys (12th), Victor (11th), Colby (11th), and Mikaela (12th) happily
nearing the end of their design calculations after several weeks

The students will be using a variety of materials and techniques; we are currently amassing a stockpile of carbon fiber tubes, balsa wood pieces, tissue paper, cellophane, lead weights, aluminum wire, and other bits and pieces. The teams are creating CAD models of their wing cross-sections, intending to 3D print them in the coming weeks. Most of the gliders are about three feet across the wingspan, about two feet long, and weigh a bit more than half a pound. (By the way, all of our work is done in metric units, to be in keeping with international physics standards!)

In order to get a real hands-on feel for the work, the group also took a special visit up to the Santa Ynez Airport, where they were shown a variety of gliders and powered aircraft. This was the perfect chance to connect theory to practice, and it no doubt helped inspire the students as they move into the manufacturing phase.

Josh and Gabe look at the cockpit
of an older glider

Dave and Colby, employees of the airport, graciously showed us around the couple of dozen light aircraft sitting on the runway, answering student questions about wing design, gliding techniques, and the pilot license process.

Megan and Caleb dreaming big as they stand by another one of
the gliders
The students look on as Colby describes the sleek and elegant
Cirrus light aircraft


As more airplanes took off and landed around them, the students got up close views of a shiny Cirrus, many older Cessnas, and an unusual-looking Long-EZ. Colby described to us the great thrill of flying, being in perfect solitude up in the sky; he is working towards his powered pilot license.

Is it a spaceship of some sort? The Long-EZ design is not
recommended for the students to imitate for their glider design

The class’s six seniors from left to right: Tys, Mikaela, Caleb, Megan,
Aaron, and Kylie; our guide Colby on the right
With plenty to fill their heads about glide paths, turbulent flow, night navigation, wing construction, parachutes, and fuel pods, the students took one final pose on an aircraft they were allowed to sit in! Thanks very much to Dave and Colby and all of the crew up at Santa Ynez—perhaps we’ll see you again sometime soon! Airport Day is coming up on Saturday, May 20th, and all are welcome.

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

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.

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.

    Upcoming Event: MS Final Challenge!

    In the Providence Middle School, fourteen 7th and 8th Graders are working busily on their capstone project for the semester: the Intro to Engineering Final Challenge! Every semester, the students in this elective are given a game-style challenge to complete, which involves designing, building, and programming a robot using LEGO Mindstorms EV3 sets.

    This semester’s challenge is being played out on a large elevated plywood platform, 8 ft by 8 ft. Mr Meadth spent a happy few hours putting this together in the science lab.

    Each team of two students must create a robot that can sweep the platform clear of various pieces of coloured “debris”; imagine a small robot whose task is to permanently keep a rooftop helipad clear of windblown trash. Two robots are running in each round simultaneously, and whoever pushes off the most debris wins.
    Special note: the pieces of “debris” we are using are the game pieces designed by Eva last year for her high school Educational Design project! Naturally, they are printed on our mod-T printers, which are still running strong (and now only $299 on their website!).
    There are significant challenges associated with this project. How do you keep the robot from falling off the edge of the platform? How do you actually have the robot find the scattered debris? Does it run a blind search pattern, or does it try to use sensors to actively search? What kind of locomotive means does it use? Tracks or wheels or something else? What if it bumps into another robot?

    Let’s introduce our competitors this semester:

    Isabela and Lily with their wheeled wonder–note the absence of rubber tires
    on the front wheels to allow sideways slippage when turning

    Christine and Sofi with their light and fast Pretzel Bot

    James and Dylan with an imposing bulldozer–note the ultrasonic sensor on the
    front to look for debris

    Zach and Alan also went with a tracked design, and a large superstructure on
    top for style points!

    Ma.kaha and Cameron put their colour sensor way out in front to detect the edge
    of the table–not falling off the table is critical to success!

    Asher and Sam have an armoured design that looks just plain scary

    Masato and Isaiah did some late redesign work to try to bring down their weight–
    the robot with a lower weight gets the advantage of being placed first
    The students will be presenting their completed designs to the rest of the class this Friday. The actual competition will take place in the Boys & Girls Club gymnasium on Monday and Tuesday at 1:00 during regular class time. Parents and friends are welcome, and it promises to be a lot of high energy fun!

    Midde School Final Challenge Complete!

    After weeks of hard work designing, building, and programming a Mars rover, four middle school teams headed out to the gym to put it all to the test. These robots were created entirely from scratch–no instructions, no plans, just the student teams and their own wits! The goal was to create a remote-controlled robot that could collect four 3D printed “Mars rocks” as quickly as possible, using whatever means necessary.

    Team 1 (Sam, Cole, Nik, and Pedro) went for an asymmetrical design, driven by two strong rubber wheels in the back. An arm with a claw lowered down on one side to scoop up the rocks, bringing them up and over to drop into a large hopper, with more than enough capacity for all four rocks.

    Team 1 presents their design to the class

    Team 3 (Conner, Brennan, Isaac, and Tessa) decided to maximize speed and agility above all else. They gave their robot a very simple platform on the front, with a swinging arm to contain a single rock at a time. This meant that they would have to exit and re-enter the circle each time to extract their rocks.

    Team 3 shows their simple but fast design

    Team 4 (David, Samy, and Belen) went for a longer model with more than enough internal capacity for four rocks. Completely unique to the competition, they designed a “paddle wheel” on the front to sweep the rocks right into the belly of the robot. This all made for more difficult turning, but an efficient collection method.

    Team 4 shows the longest design in the competition

    Lastly, Team 26 (Todd, Ashlynne, and Deacon) designed a big, bulky robot with both caterpillar tracks and rubber wheels. Team 26 was the only team to employ two computers onboard, to account for their large number of motors. A robot arm reached over the front of the robot to close onto the rocks, before lifting them up into the hopper behind.

    Team 26 shows the class their hybrid machine

    After a day of presenting and time trials, the students played it out in the gym, with parents and fellow students cheering on. Each team scored at least one victory against someone else, although by the end of the first day, it was clear that Team 3 had an obvious speed advantage. With each round of play, they perfected their technique to get faster and faster!

    Mr. Meadth and the crowd look on as Team 26 positions for another run;
    Team 4 paddles its way forward unhindered

    Brennan and Conner from Team 3 close in on another rock; Todd and Deacon
    from Team 26 try to co-ordinate their efforts

    Samy from Team 4 takes a turn at the controls while David
    and Belen look on

    On the second day of competition, the students knew it was time for the eliminations. Team 26 and Team 4 had given the shakiest performances up to this point, although both had won a victory against each other. Fighting for the best of three saw a victory in 1:03 for Team 4, then a victory in 1:15 for Team 26. With scores tied, Team 4 pushed through in their fastest performance yet, with an astounding 0:54. Team 26 eliminated!

    Samy, holding three, anxiously waits for the fourth rock to
    be collected by David
    Ashlynne, having positioned Team 26’s robot, looks on as Deacon steers it
    toward the goal

    In the next elimination round, the bulkier Team 1 faced off against the more agile Team 3. In a quick series of best of three, Team 3 established dominance, putting their fastest time on the board of four rocks in 0:30. Team 1 put in a valiant effort, but could not keep up and was eliminated.

    Team 1 scoops up their second rock in the elimination round
    Conner from Team 3 positions the robot as Brennan gets ready to make a run for
    the pink rock

    The very long Team 4 and the very quick Team 3 went through to the final round, for another best of three. Tensions were high, and Team 4 started off strong. Team 3 went straight into their typical repertoire: run in, grab, get out, repeat. Like a well-oiled machine, Team 3 took home a victory in 0:50. In the second of three, Team 4 came close to victory, but Team 3 once again won with 1:12–notabley, not as fast as Team 4’s best time. However, a third round showed that, without a doubt, Team 3 deserved the grand prize!

    Team 4 (left) and Team 3 fly into action in the final round
    Already holding two, Team 4 (left) narrowly misses their next red rock, while
    Team 3 closes in on the teal one

    The winning students were awarded with gift cards and one of the rocks they had fought so hard to collect. Smiles all round, and we’ll see what the Final Challenge had to hold in store next year!

    Mr. Meadth congratulates Tessa, Conner, Brennan, and Isaac for a job well done
    All the students with their robots at the end of the tournament

    Middle School: AIAA Foundation Grant

    Much of the funding for our high school Academy comes in the form of grants, generously donated from a wide range of community sources. Our middle school elective is no different. The 7th and 8th Grade students explore a diverse range of engineering topics—structures, gear ratios, sensor technology, and coding to name a few—and they need technology to do it! Our middle school classroom is well stocked with laptops and LEGO Mindstorms EV3 sets to help them accomplish this.

    This semester, the middle school elective is pursuing a space exploration theme (this ties in with our Science and Engineering Expo on the 3rd of May, here at the Upper Campus). In keeping with this theme, the students are learning about navigation; specifically, how do you write algorithms that can guide a robot to a particular destination? How do unmanned spacecraft and planetary exploration robots find their way?

    For this navigation unit, we needed to supplement our existing EV3 robots with extra add-ons. We decided to invest in infrared sensors, which are paired with small beacons (both pictured). The beacons either act as a hand-held remote control for the robot, or they can broadcast a signal for the robot can home in on. Both modes involve careful crafting of navigation algorithms that make decisions based on sensory input.

    The simple Robot Educator, shown with the infrared sensor attached (the
    red/black shape mounted in its center) and two infrared beacons

    Mr. Meadth is a member of the AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics), and so was able to apply for an AIAA Foundation Classroom Grant to purchase these needed resources. Twenty different schools were selected for this grant of $250, which is aimed at teachers doing hands-on STEM activities that relate to aviation or aerospace, and we are glad to announce that Providence was one of them. We now have enough sensors and beacons for an entire class—thank you to the AIAA Foundation!

    Left to right: Ashlynne, Brennan, and Todd
    show the robots, all with IR sensors attached

    The middle school students will continue to learn the finer points of using these and other sensors for the rest of the semester. Their final project will be to design and construct their own version of a Mars rover, which will compete in an open-invitation event in early June. We’ll keep you posted on this exciting long-term project!

    Don’t forget to follow this blog to get all the latest on the middle school and high school engineering activities, and please send your questions and comments to Rod Meadth at rmeadth@providencesb.org.