We humans are fascinated with robots since at least the 10th century BC when Yan Shi is recorded to have created a human like automaton. Now we teach about robotics beginning in elementary school. Two popular technologies in our area are the First Lego League and the VEX Robotics Competition
The competition consists of moving objects into a goal with 15 seconds of autonomous operation followed by a 1 minute and 45 seconds of remote control driving. In addition the robots are paired up with a second robot to work as a team.
This process teaches the competitors social and teamwork skills in the process of building something that requires them to learn and exercise math, science, engineering and technology (STEM) skills.
The robots are programmed in a language specifically created for education and robots called RobotC. It is an altered version of C. This sample from the programmer, Elizabeth, on team 14g from last year shows the autonomous sequence.
|#pragma config(Motor, port7, claw, tmotorVex393_MC29, openLoop)|
|void clawopen (int time)|
A series of functions that the team programmer Elizabeth wrote, such as clawopen, armup and turnright are executed. These functions call internal robot functions that control motors and read from sensors. This snip of code shows the clawopen function which references the claw motor defined in the pragma at the top. The config ties the port number on the cortex to a specific motor type.
The VEX competition requires the use of standard parts so teams are working from the same base. The brain of the robot is an item they call the cortex. It is an ARM processor with ports for motor and sensor connections. There is a joystick to control the robot and then there are sensor and motor modules. In addition there are collections of gears, wheels, belts and structural pieces to build the body.
Each robot is built by a team of four to six students working together to design, build and program it. They also must work together during the competitions in determining strategy and managing their time as they sometimes need to make adjustments between matches.
Between matches they compete in individual events where they are judged on programming skills and robot driving skills.
During the preliminaries they are teamed with another robot team. So all the matches are two against two. They learn to problem solve under pressure and learn to work with the strengths and weaknesses of the random parings over many matches.
In the semi-finals of the tournament their math skills are tested as they determine the best teams to align with during the semi-finals. The top teams pick two other teams they want to compete with in the finals. It is a loud dash as teams negotiate and jockey for positions.
In the end there are multiple winners. They select the most inventive robot, the tournament champions, the second place team, programming skills winner, robot skills winner, design (quality of their engineering notebook) and judges award.
The best teams during the season go to the Virginia State competition and then the top teams go to a world championship.
Volume Integration and Volume Labs is proud to sponsor this fun and educational technological sport. Be sure and check back for updates on the progress of the Marsteller Team.