Summer Robot Camp 2012

Introduction

This report will summarize the outcomes of Summer Robot Camp in summer of 2012 at the Center for Manufacturing Technology, Woburn MA. Summer Robot Camp is a summer camp style course taught to middle school students from ages 10-14. Four sessions were taught to 35 students overall. The goals of the camp are to give students confidence in STEM fields and also to motivate students by demonstrating how the concepts they learn in school can be applied in the fields including robotics, engineering, and technology.

Egg Crash Vehicle

This camp achieves this goal by using numerous hands-on activities. The first activity the students participate in is building an egg-crash vehicle, which is a vehicle made to specified rules that must protect an egg as it crashes into an obstacle. This activity shows students the importance of iterative design and allows the instructors to introduce basic concepts in mechanics. Usually, not many eggs survive for the first few sets of tests, but after several design revisions, vehicles are greatly improved and effectively protect their eggs.

                                                       Figure 1. Testing of an egg crash vehicle

Lego Mindstorms

One of the main teaching tools we implement are Lego Mindstorms NXT kits. Students build robotic Legos based off their own ideas or from online plans. These kits are especially helpful in introducing students to programming. After several builds and students are comfortable using the kits, they are given a challenge to build an autonomous fighting robot.  In this competition two robots must follow a line drawn on a poster into the “designated fighting zone” where robots are allowed to turn on their weapons to be used against one another. Weapons that have been effectively used include claws, Lego-saws, rotating bars, and wedges. Students must tailor their fighting algorithms to produce an effective robot.

                                             Figure 2. Students watching an autonomous fight

Sumo-Robots

Our most popular activity is our Sumo-Robot competition. Each student is supplied with materials to produce their own fighting robot from scratch. We allow students to pick from various gearboxes, wheels, chassis materials to build a robot to fight in our competition. This competition is very useful in introducing students to basic concepts in Newtonian physics, mechanical advantage, friction, as students have an incentive to take advantage of these concepts to have an edge over their peers. Furthermore, this competition teaches students useful hands-on skills, especially in assembly, where students assemble complex gearboxes comprised of 40+ working parts, and also in soldering, where students learn to solder to build their own robot controllers.

We have seen a plethora of creative designs from the students. Students have used robots with lifters, ramming mechanisms, punching mechanisms, spikes, hammers, stored inertia weapons, cutting weapons, tank treads, and more. All of the students are able to take a design from initial concept and develop it into a working prototype. In each session, we have two double-elimination competitions to compete until one robot is left standing. After the first competition, students have a chance to revise their designs to get ready for the second competition. Students are allowed to keep their robots at the end of camp.

                                                                     Figure 3. Sumo-Robot fight!

                        Figure 4. Whiskers, a Sumo-Robot Champion using a punching mechanism.


Our camp implements various different activities, including a material science demonstration with liquid nitrogen, soldering lessons, and Google Sketchup CAD lessons. Our material science demonstration shows unique properties of materials at low temperatures. We freeze balloons, crack rubber balls, freeze glow sticks, flowers pedals, and even make liquid nitrogen ice cream. This demonstration shows some unexpected behaviors from everyday items, and we aim to generate curiosity out of our students. Next, we have several soldering lessons where students assemble an ambulance siren. This is a very useful skill for students interested in engineering, especially in giving them confidence in learning about electronic circuits. Lastly, we introduce students to some CAD, we use Sketch Up and we demonstrate how the software could be helpful for school projects.

                                                      Figure 5. Students soldering ambulance sirens.


Conclusion

Overall, students had a great time at Summer Robot Camp. We received many compliments from parents, and many of the students would like to return. Overall, we felt our objectives in introducing students to STEM, particularly aspects unavailable in school, were met. At the end students had a better understanding of how science and math can help them solve problems, and students gained confidence in taking on new challenges.

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