Erik Richardson

Teacher, Richardson Ideaworks, Inc.


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If you could pick the activity for next year's FIRST high school robotics competition, what would you pick?

Each year, high school students all over the country work side-by-side with professional engineers to design and build a robot to compete in that year's competitive game ( This year the activity, for instance, was a 3-on-3 basketball game. If you had to choose a contest that you thought would be challenging, fun, and would inspire kids to become involved in science and technology fields, what would you come up with?

Be creative and think outside the box!

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    Jul 24 2012: I think I might choose something that many human beings find difficult like tricks on a balance beam.
  • Jul 16 2012: I would like to suggest a refined robot which will be the improvement of the robot in the past that it was remotely manipulated by the student to hang a loop onto a pole for the shortest time. I believe that it is possible to have a self guided robot to achieve this task by a built in software which will direct the robot to travel in (nearly) straight line and by the appropriate angle. This should be possible by a built in video camera within the robot "brain" which will form a periodic blueprint based on which the robot will adjust its angle of approach to the target pole. Then the hanging of the loop will be programmed in strict metrics and the timing of hanging action. Compared with the successful programming of the driverless racing cars, this programming should be relatively simpler. Furthermore, the brain unit doesn't have to be incorporated in the robot, it could easily be remote controlled by a computer in the hand of the student. But the decision making must be directed by the computer brain to speed up and improve the accuracy of the robotic action.
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    Jul 11 2012: Ooh! Reading through your ideas gave me an inspiration. In addition to other possibilities, I would also like to hear suggestions for diagnose/repair scenarios. For instance: consider if each field had a set of mechanical dials where the opposing team's robots would try to "break" your console by changing the dials to a hard-to-resolve setting, and your robots had to resolve them (and vice-versa for the console on their side of the field)? A simple example would be a set of five dials with binary values and one or two coding errors that must be identified and undone.

    Other examples?? :-D
  • Jul 11 2012: How about a robot that would water your house plants or outside gardens. They would need to check the soil condition, how likely it was going to rain in the next 24 hours, how much water to put on a particular plant/s, be able to get the water, either by using a hose or a bucket/reservoir of some sort, and apply the water to the plant/s .
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      Jul 11 2012: Interesting idea, Alice. Your suggestions help me to think about how to clarify the goals. For instance, robots sitting around analyzing data isn't very exciting to watch or play as a competition unless/until it quickly results in action. The other thing would be to generalize the functions somewhat, so the solution would easily translate to different possible applications (and scalable to larger frameworks).

      That your question pushed me to elaborate on additional details/boundaries is great - keep it up! :-D
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    Jul 3 2012: How about a robot which can manipulate the controller of a video game sufficiently to play the game? It would sell well and the kids would be free to go outside and play.
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      Jul 4 2012: Funny, Edward. :-D The kinds of tasks used focus more on getting the robots to achieve some complex real-world task, picking up items and putting them in bins/trailers, putting rings onto support arms, navigating obstacles - things that would translate to scientific and industrial application. In FIRST, though, it is set up as a game between two sets of allied teams.
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    Jul 3 2012: Hi Erik,

    first of all I like to congratulate the US educational system to have applied (even invented?) such a beautiful idea like the technical competitions to get young people discover and to use their potential in creativity and teamwork! This is definitely worth spreading across the globe!

    And if I had to pick, so why not get airborne?

    The task for each team could be to create their own flying machines (e.g. Quadcopter) which had to transport a certain set of different objects along a defined course which was filled with obstacles of all kinds (loops, walls, drafts, rain, etc.). The number of objects to transport would match the number of the team members, so each 'inventor' was to have its own go. Identical and parallel courses within a sports hall would then add the thrill of competition and makes it more interesting than running against a stopwatch only.

    So much for the fun part and, beeing German, I've got to spoil this! :o)

    'Off the shelve' kits and even whole main parts (e.g. propellers) are not allowed and have to be designed by the team itself. Depending on the age of the pupils this may also include to write the control software, which by itself is quite challenging already. This may even allow to team up in between different school levels, in which university students support specially written and adjusted software to the flying hardware of high and middle school students. But to keep the trill and the human touch within the competition software for autonomous navigation was not allowed.

    I would also implement environmental concerns in the game. Each team had to provide a correct list of all the materials they used in their flying machine by name and weight, so a jury could calculate an equivalent number representing an CO2 footprint impact of that machine. The overall time in the race, devided by the CO2 equivalent number x the electric energy needed while completing the task would finally determine the winning team...

    Smart technology ..
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      Jul 3 2012: Those are some great ideas, Jan-Bernd.

      I especially like the idea of the CO2 footprint. I have a little fear for the spectators, though, with the flying. I've seen how often and how hard the ground-based robots slam into the plexi-glass walls during competition. :-D
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        Jul 3 2012: Helmets and goggles are mandatory, of course! I was just running out of my limited characters here... That's why there are only two instead of the usual three dots at the end of Smart technology ...