Older blog entries for josborn (starting at number 7)

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.

Went to Takoma Park Middle School this afternoon. In order to spread the FIRST gospel so to speak, Blair has decided to branch out to middle schools with the FIRST Lego League. We had a pretty good group of middle school kids show up. Today the lesson was on structure, the kids had to build the tallest thing possible with just the pieces in their Mindstorm kits. Seems like we've got a lot of enthusiastic kids (which is sort of to be expected since Takoma is the Math, Science, CS magnet for the county).

On a related note, I sent out an email to the homeschool group at my church (about starting a FIRST Lego League group), and have had a pretty good response so far. Looks like we'll have a small weekly program this summer.

In AI class today we tested the IR sensors (GPD2D12s) with a heavily modified PalmBot program that just shows the input values on the Palm screen. They seem to work pretty well, so we'll be writing the maze solving software soon.

Today I got an email from Mike Schneier with the Intelligent Systems Division at NIST. It looks like I'll be working in their Industrial Autonomous Vehicles program this summer. I'll be "helping to develop navigation and world modeling for a mobile robot that operates indoors in a factory environment," using ladar. Sounds pretty cool, I just have to figure out how much I'm going to get paid.

Last night I soldered connectors to the IR sensors that we're going to add to PalmBot. In AI class today we planned out sort of where we're going to put them on PalmBot. Brandon has a little HS-55 servo that we're going to mount both sensors to, back to back.

I might be going to the National Science Bowl in Chevy Chase this Saturday to show off our FIRST robot (although the thing is about robotics in general, so I might bring PalmBot).

I was talking with Brandon yesterday about how I don't think FIRST is really doing it's job. FIRST is trying to get people interested in science and engineering while not being violent (they are very anti-BattleBots). However, it seems like they're not doing enough to promote robotics. As the name states, (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), they're about inspiring students, not actually teaching them. This means that they expect the engineers to build a robot while the students watch, and have the students saw "gee whiz, that's cool!" and major in engineering in college. I think they need to do a better job of getting the students involved with the actual creation of the robot. Our school's robot is about 98-99% student built, but we seem to be a minority at competitions. I really think that FIRST needs to do more to get kids into robotics projects after FIRST. Right now their plan is for the kids to do FIRST through high school, then go into engineering in college. What they need to do is have kids do FIRST, then get robotics internships during the summer, or get involved in hobby projects. They can do this by partnering with companies and laboratories that specifically do robotics to get students working there. I also think they need to make the finals more like a robotics conference than just a competition. It would be cool if they could have a bunch of robotics companies there (rather than just GM or whoever they had this year). That way the kids see the other things that are going on in the field of robotics, and find companies they can get involved with or projects they can do on their own. Brandon and I did that by ourselves, and it took me a year to really figure out what else is out there. I think we're a very small minority though. I think they need to help other students see this too.

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