Older blog entries for josborn (starting at number 11)

On Saturday I went to Goddard for their open house, to show off the school's FIRST robot. We also brought some of our Lego robots, and I brought PalmBot, which was unfortunately out of the action because of the null modem adapter (which causes most if not all of PalmBot's failures). We had a pretty good crowd. The coolest thing that Goddard strated was a system where they had you pop a balloon, the pop was picked up by a microphone connected to a laptop, which was dialed into a satellite ground station, sent a message to a satellite, which talked to another satellite, which sent a message to a separate ground station, which sent a message over the Internet over the Net to a laptop which happened to be on the other side of a room, which was connected to a camera, which took a picture, all in four seconds. This was to strate satellite to satellite communication. What they want to happen eventually is for a satellite to pick up gamma rays, and then tell another satellite (which has a better imager), "I just found gamma rays! Point yourself at these coordinates and take some pictures."

I sent out another message to our homeschool group at church, and I got a huge response, so we're going to do the program, (teaching kids engineering fundamentals and eventually robotics fundamentals using Legos), but we might have to go get another set.

Today I had my first day at NIST. They're doing some really cool robotics work in the Intelligent Systems Division, I'm just not sure what I'm going to be doing exactly. Today was mostly orientation, and hopefully tomorrow I'll actually meet my supervisor and get my marching orders.

Last night I got to go to an DC AMS (Amer. Meteorological Society) dinner for science fair winners (My senior research project was done using Synthetic Aperture Radar on storms in the Gulf of Alaska). It was pretty interesting. I've been looking for a project in which I could combine my interests in meteorology and robotics. The aerosondes that articles have been posted about are probably the best way to go, but I'm not real sure where to get started.

I just won an auction for an Atari 800 on eBay, so hopefully development of AtariBot (A.K.A. The BASIC Crate) will start soon.

Went to the DCPUG meeting on Tuesday. There was a pretty good crowd, I thought I did a pretty good job presenting, and they were very receptive. I explained the advantages of using a Palm for robotics over things like the BASIC Stamp or OOPic. I really think that a company that can make a nice SV203-like attachment for a Palm would end up outselling the BASIC Stamp. Seems to me like the Palm is better hands down.

Today was the final competition for the C.E.M.P. It went pretty well for the planning time put in. The kids had an hour to build and program their robots, which was nowhere near enough time. The teacher that did it still thinks that was plenty of time. The course had many difficult obstacles, and only a few robots made it through more than one, usually ones that were heavily assisted by high schoolers. It's a little annoying that they see it too often as a competition instead of an activity designed to let kids have fun. Oh well, at least I know what not to do with the homeschool group at my church.

Today was my last day of high school, it's time to relax.

On Monday, Brandon, James and I presented our AI project, which went pretty well. Our project was in robotics, but it was specifically to make PalmBot be able to navigate a maze. We added two IR sensors attached to a servo so we could get 360 degree readings. We had to make last minute changes to the program to get it to work, but it ending up doing fine.

Today I got my Mindstorms kit that I'm going to be using to teach the kids in our homeschool group at church. I also got rid of the modifications we made to PalmBot for the presentation, and mounted the IR sensor that I bought from Brandon on the front. I guess I could call it PalmBot 2.0 or something.

Tomorrow I've got C.E.M.P. at Takoma where we're going to introduce the competition that they'll compete in against the other two middle schools. We've also got a dinner for the Blair Robotics Club, which should be fun. Next Tuesday I get to present PalmBot at a DCPUG meeting. Man, I thought I wasn't going to be busy a week and half before graduation.

Went over to Takoma today to do C.E.M.P. Today's lesson was about programming. We gave the students pre-built robots and had them program them to follow a maze. Luckily we had 4 or 5 kids who had programmed Mindstorms before, so they led each group. By the end of the afternoon, the kids had the robots through almost half of the maze. I was pleasantly surprised.

This weekend I've got to finish up my AI project, we'll see if we can get it done in time.

Things have been pretty busy lately with graduation coming up. On Monday I went to a DCPUG users group meeting. Craig Simpson, one of the leaders of DCPUG, invited me to their meeting on the 29th to show off PalmBot. This meeting was comprised of two presentations by AvantGo and Palm. AvantGo was sort of interesting since I hadn't actually seen the software before, and the Palm presentation was really cool as they showed the m505 in detail and talked about some of Palm's strategies.

I had to miss the C.E.M.P. meeting to go to the PUG meeting, but it seems the challenge this week is just to program the robot. We're going to build three or four robots out of Lego the same way, and then have the kids program them to follow a line. It's a lot to cram into one hour, but we'll have to do it somehow.

About 10 minutes ago I got PalmBot avoiding obstacles using its new IR rangefinder. James has been working on the maze solving program in class, but I decided to go ahead and make a simple obstacle avoiding program for when the class is over and I buy the IR sensor from Brandon.

I'm going to play with the Mindstorms software tonight so that I can teach the kids tomorrow. Hopefully I can get some of my homework done instead of playing with robots all the time :-).

On Friday we went to Takoma Park to teach our lesson about gears and drive systems. I think it went pretty well. Also had a long conversation with Brandon about what it's going to take to get students enthusiastic about robotics. Happened to meet a guy at Takoma who's not doing the Lego thing but built a Stiquito.

Today at school we had a small crisis with the quotas on our Linux machine, but we soon remedied it and things are back to normal. I'm just hanging on until school ends so I can relax and work on some of my projects for a little bit. That's all for now.

Found out today that because of NIST's hiring policies, I'll either have to miss graduation or do nothing for two weeks at the beginning of the summer. Oh well.

I got the motors from solarbotics.com that I plan to use for my new project. Not going to say what that is until I've got it at least mostly finished.

Went to the C.E.M.P (Career Exploration and Mentoring Program) meeting yesterday. C.E.M.P is what they're calling Blair's middle school Lego outreach. The lesson for this week is going to be gears, and how you can use them to change the torque/speed of a motor. The competition for the end of the day will be to design a drive system that will make it through a course that we designed. The course is pretty tough, I think we designed it just hard enough. I think the kids will enjoy it.

On a work-related note, I talked with someone in the ISD at NIST who's sent out my forms so I can work there this summer. What's sort of funny is that I haven't been interviewed yet. I'm hoping I can visit sometime before I graduate so that I can meet people and get a badge before my first day there.

Went to the National Science Bowl today at the National 4H Center in Chevy Chase to show off our FIRST robot (i.e. our glorified R/C car). It was sort of cool. Dave Lavery, a NASA guy who works at headquarters in D.C., talked about the history of robotics at NASA specifically for Mars exploration. Did you know that NASA was originally planning to send an SUV sized robot to Mars to collect soil samples? It was supposed to have a whole bunch of cameras and computers. It would survey the landscape by taking a whole bunch of pictures, would analyze them for 90 minutes, and then move a meter and repeat the process. Turns out an intern built a robot out of an R/C car that would lift hockey pucks and bring them back to a beacon. He had the robot (called Tooth) there.

As for the FIRST part of the talk, I was a little disappointed. FIRST is usually pretty good at promoting itself, without necessarily promoting the field of robotics. You could also tell how much student involvement there is in FIRST by the crowd there. We had one NASA guy, one school had a college mentor, one had a teacher, and we had three students (and no teachers or engineers). I also don't like how you get filed into two categories with FIRST: a student that knows nothing, or a gearhead engineer. I'm an aspiring gearhead engineer, but I always get treated like a student that knows nothing by the gearhead engineers. FIRST just wants more people to join so they look good and the kids are off the street hanging out with engineers even if they don't learn anything. I think it would be good if FIRST could teach kids the specifics behind the programming, electronics and mechanics since these things transfer to the real world robotics field. Dave actually talked about how FIRST doesn't teach the kids anything new but lets them apply what they've already learned (or haven't learned). I think that FIRST needs to do a few things differently: Make it a point to teach kids more, Limit engineer involvement, and Make part of the competition partly autonomous (in that order).

I'm looking forward to working with kids in the FIRST Lego League however, because I think that's set up well. Kids learn a lot and are required to build the robot themselves.

I'm whining about FIRST again, but I've been involved for two years and I'd like to see some change. I'll probably email or send a letter to the leadership there.

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