The Flowers are Listening: Machines Inspired by Nature

(This is the sixth in a series of blog articles written by the Providence Engineering Academy students. In this article, 12th grade student Alena reflects on building machines inspired by God’s incredible design found in His natural creation.)

Watch what you say because the flowers are listening.

Sounds like Alice in Wonderland, right? Okay, so maybe the flowers can’t listen to your conversation, but they do “listen.” Sound is so fundamental—birds, wind, the waves at the beach, cars driving by—that relying on it is essential to survival.

Researcher Lilach Hadany posed the question: what if flowers had this same necessary survival instinct? She concluded that they do and that they also respond to the sounds around them. Hadany and her team studied evening primroses (pictured) and discovered that when these flowers sense vibrations from bees’ wings they temporarily increase the concentration of sugar in their nectar. They concluded that it would be too much for the flower to produce this amount of sugar in the nectar at all times, so they respond to vibrations to know when to produce “the good stuff”.

Now picture this: twenty-four engineering students, sitting outside in the sun, 100% sure they had no idea about what today’s lesson will be. Then, Mr. Meadth hands out giant sticky notes. Confusion. Suddenly, Davis knows what’s going on (he’s been keeping up with recent science). Articles are handed out, read, and reread. It all makes sense now.

The engineering students are split into teams of two and asked to design a machine that can do the same things this flower can. The lesson of the day was all about how many machines today are based on nature, and how we can gain inspiration from looking at God’s creation around us. As the students started designing their own flower, they realized how complex the components would have to be.

Take a minute, and think of what you would need. Done? Cool. You may continue.

Let’s start at the top and work our way down. To replicate the “receiver” of the vibrations, you would need to replicate the petals. They were so precise that if you removed even one petal, the flowers didn’t respond to vibrations at all. You would also need a place for the sugar to be distributed from, as well as a computer to know how and when to change the sugar content, and by how much. You would need something connecting all of the sensors, the computer, the sugar center, and the power. There are so many components that we probably don’t even come close to listing them all here.

To replicate this phenomenon of nature in a machine is so complicated and precise, that it would take months or years to get even close to what nature can do. As we look at this flower as a microscopic portion of God’s creation and it’s vast complexity, we should step back and remember that we are His creation too, and we should find the goodness in everything.

(Find the full article on this amazing discovery here at National Geographic’s website.)

Searching for Solutions: Search and Rescue Robot Challenge

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

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

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

The payload mechanism’s motor came unplugged!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Search and Rescue Robot Photos: Josh Guinto

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

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

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

Nolan and Alan looking for bugs in the program

Sydney gears up for safety!

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

Kaitlyn and Josh hard at work writing lines of code

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

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

James reattaches the front wheels again

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

MS Final Challenge: Flawless Victory!

A new record was set this semester, with the biggest group ever signing up for Intro to Engineering in Room 202. The eighth cohort to take this class, they were full of excitement as they spent the last four weeks of class designing and building a LEGO robot to respond to Mr Meadth’s latest Final Challenge.

In some ways, this was the most difficult challenge yet: the robot would be placed in a square walled ring, collect a colored item, and deposit it outside of the ring. Sound simple? To scoop up a smooth plastic object on a smooth wooden floor and get it over that mere 3.5″ of height is far more difficult than it sounds! How does the robot know when it has the item in hand? How can it lift it up? How to release it? Should it be able to steer? How does it know when it hits the wall? Will it behave the same way every time?
The game area: an 8 ft wooden square, with 3.5″ high walls; five
items were scattered for collection and removal
Mr Meadth’s advice to the students was plain: the robot that won this competition would be fast, simple, and reliable. Fast: this is a race against the clock, with only 30 seconds to beat the other robot in the ring. Simple: every additional moving part is one more thing that can go wrong. Reliable: it must do the same predictable thing time after time.
Left to right: Zach and Sam show their formidable forklift machine
After the last frantic rush of finishing work, eight complex machines lined up to take the floor. Bedecked with an impressive array of forklifts, scoops, and shovels, the robots stared each other down with baleful red eyes (ultrasonic sensors, actually, but the lure of personification is hard to overcome!).
Ruby and Brooklyne’s robot finds its way into the corner, missing
the yellow item by a whisker!
After an intense Friday of preliminary rounds, it was clear that one team’s robot stood out head and shoulders above the rest; Emma and Donna’s machine was indeed fast and reliable. Spearing the item every time, undefeated in every round, they were placed in pole position. Honors also went to Avala and Isabela, who did excellently on the first day.
Left to right: Emma and Donna sit proudly after another
winning round!
Emma and Donna (rear) narrowly beat out Avala and Isabela
Teams were given a chance over the weekend to regroup. Any programming or mechanical fixes could be carried out, in time for the elimination rounds. Several teams took advantage of this, and fine-tuned their bot in the hopes of gaining victory.
Left to right: Masa and Ma.kaha pause for the camera while the
competition rages on behind them!
On the big day, it was made clear once again just how challenging this task was. Several teams did not score even once—it really is that hard! Many teams found their robot just didn’t know when to lift the item over the wall. The lesson was hard learned: a robot is utterly deaf, dumb, and blind except for proper sensors and programming.
Left to right: Isaac and Josiah carefully plan their attack vector
After several rounds, Emma and Donna once again distinguished themselves as undefeated at the top of the pack. Avala and Isabela also scored solid victories. Josiah and Isaac also scored a victory, as did Sam and Zach. Caleb and Harry deserve an honorable mention; in the last round they were finally able to remove an item from the field… but it hit the ground a quarter-second later than their opponent!
The semi-final was swift and to the point. Emma and Donna maintained their winning streak by pushing Avala and Isabela out of the competition. Isaac and Josiah beat out Sam and Zach and advanced to the final round.
Would Emma and Donna meet their final match? Sadly for the boys, not this time, and not ever! In an astounding display of consistency, the girls won yet again—with a personal best of 4 seconds—while the boys swung wide and missed the target altogether. Flawless victory!
The final victory! Our photographer Isaiah captures the winning
moment an instant before the item hits the ground.
As always, congratulations to all participants, and to the many parents, staff members, and friends who came out to see the competition across both days. We were thrilled to have you, and we look forward to seeing what the next Final Challenge will be.
From left to right: Caleb, Harry, Zach, Josiah, Zach, Isaac, Brooklyne,
Ruby, Avala, Isabela, Emma, Donna, Cameron, Alan, James, Ma.kaha,
Masa, Isaiah, Sydney, Abby, Mr Meadth

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: 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?!

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.

Guest Speakers: Patrick Lindsey and John Horton

Last Tuesday, our Foundations of Engineering II class had the privilege of hearing from chief mechanical engineer, John Horton, team manager and driver, Patrick Lindsey, and Lindsay Lindsey, Patrick’s wife, of Park Place Motorsports. Park Place Motorsports is a professional racing team that competes in WeatherTech, a branch of NASCAR devoted to racing sports cars.

John Horton stressing the importance of teamwork in racing.


Mr. Horton recounted his journey to a profession in the racing industry from his childhood fascination with his Erector metal construction sets to a life-changing auto shop program that he joined in high school. He stressed the importance of cooperation when working as an engineer, particularly in a field such as professional racing which combines a multitude of engineering disciplines.  On the matter of cooperation Mr. Horton said, “There’s always something that you don’t know about that you need a network to help you solve. Communication is key.”

Patrick Lindsey explains the art of cornering in a race car.


Mr. Lindsey focused on the driving aspect of the race, showing data gathered from tire sensors during a lap at Daytona Speedway. He related the shape of the graph at a particular instant to what the car was physically doing at that point and talked about the importance of such graphs in making sure that the car was operating at absolute peak performance.

Our guests were also able to relate their profession to our recently (almost!) completed project: the robotic self-driving car. Jakob explained the various elements of his team’s robot to Mr. Horton, such as the drive motor system and the rack-and-pinion steering, and Mr. Horton confirmed that the same features were present on their Porsche, just scaled-up and more advanced.


The Foundations of Engineering II class with their guest speakers.

The Park Place Motorsports Team ended their presentation with an inside-the-car video of a lap around Daytona Speedway and a directive to pursue their passion for science and engineering to wherever it may take them.

We are thankful for the visit from the Park Place Motorsports Team, and wish them luck in their upcoming 24-hour race at Daytona Speedway!

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.