WMSI Camp Blasts off! Robot Camp 2018!

By Jeremy Knowlton

WMSI started off its first full week camp of the season with a buzz of excitement and the unmistakable sound of LEGO pieces pouring through creative hands! 

 Two young engineers discussing robotic arm design

Two young engineers discussing robotic arm design

WMSI's 2018 Robot Camp was set up to go over basic ideas and techniques of robotics in the first two days. During the last part of the week, campers then used those skills to complete engaging and exciting robotics challenges!

During the first two days, students excitedly paired up and worked on skills such as strong building techniques, motor and sensor coding, gearing, and creative problem solving. While exploring these skills, students designed strong arms which could hold heavy rocks, fishing rods that caught slippery robot fish, silly dancing robots, and much more! A favorite was robotic drawing robots. Students carefully followed blueprints with their partners to design the motor holders. Later, groups brainstormed how to create a long scissor arm that could hold a marker and move around as motors rotated.

 

 "It... it draws... by itself!"

"It... it draws... by itself!"

Soon, looks of intense concentration melted into smiles and giggles as motors whirred and pattern drawings spread onto paper! Students explored which motor speeds created the coolest patterns. Soon, banana shapes, butterflies, onions, and whirly-gigs appeared on paper!

 Success!

Success!

 A boy and his robot

A boy and his robot

 

Later in the week, students used their new skills to design robots that solved problems and challenges. Students started off Day 3 with a classic problem: a cat is stuck in a tree and won't come down. We prompted students, "how, as engineers, can you solve this problem?" Students started by carefully observing the situation: a stuffed animal cat was stuck in a tree about 15 feet up. a tight rope led up to where the cat was stuck. Students drew up designs and were off to the races, thinking about friction, weight distribution, and claw mechanisms as they put builds together. Soon, designs were whirring up and down the rope, using motion sensors, infrared, and claws to attempt kitten rescue! (no cats were hurt in this challenge).

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We were particularly impressed with how campers followed the engineering process of brainstorming, designing, testing, and re-designing. most groups tried at least 6-10 different versions of their build before they found one that worked. With some giggles, a good bit of patience, and the whir of motors, bots started to climb up and cats started to get dragged down!

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Later in the week, students tackled a new challenge: design a very useful or a very useless robot. campers loved the playfulness of the challenge. On the useless end of the room,  our young engineers created robots turned themselves off; robots that bumped repeatedly into walls while saying "ouch!"; and even bots that flipped over like an overturned bug when you pressed the on button. Laughs were had by all!

 Imagine this awesome robot fetching the mail, or getting you a soda!

Imagine this awesome robot fetching the mail, or getting you a soda!

While creating a robot that does something useless with a flare of style is quite fun, our engineers discovered that it's even more exciting to design a useful robot! Useful robot designers chose a population of people or animals that they wanted to help. Next, they brainstormed a problem that this population of living things might have. Designs included weed whacking robots; robots that saved turtles; and even a robot that used motion sensing and infrared to bring objects to and from people with disabilities!

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For the final challenge of the week, back by popular demand, we ran a 3 hour game of robotic Rugby/Sumo bots. Campers were challenged to design a robot that would operate inside a stadium. This stadium had two goals. Your robot's job was to navigate through the stadium and "kick" a ball into the opposing robots goal. Students took off with this challenge, grabbing infrared and motion sensors as they excitedly brainstormed driving, passing, and kicking designs for their robots. Soon, game one started with robots skittering around the stadium with "kicking feet" wildly swinging on motor blocks. 

 Nicknamed "lightning foot"

Nicknamed "lightning foot"

 It helps to have a goalie as big as the goal...

It helps to have a goalie as big as the goal...

Campers excitedly discussed strategy between games. Robots that had large treads generally became defenders/goalies, as they took up huge amounts of space. Smaller robots with geared "kicking feet' became offensive players. Fun was had by all!

Sadly, Robot Camp came to an end far too quickly. We had an amazing time working with these young engineers and can't wait to see them at another WMSI program soon! Keep a close eye on your inbox and our Facebook page as WMSI is moving to Littleton this October and will be running weekly programs throughout the Fall!