In addition to their group research project, which students present at tjSTAR, there is another culminating project associated with TJ’s 9th grade Integrated Biology, English, and Technology (IBET) course: the IBET Robot Competition.
After studying electronics, coding, Computer-Assisted Design (CAD), and basic prototyping techniques, students design, construct, and program their own robots. They test their robots, make adjustments, test them again, and finally compete with them against others in their IBET section. Class winners in each event then compete for individual and class bragging rights at the year-end 8th period IBET Robot Competition, one of TJ’s signature events.
The event features a speed competition, a tug-of-war, and an obstacle course (above). With IBET Tech teacher Craig Lewis announcing the play-by-play, the action simultaneously shown on a big screen, music playing, and freshmen in class t-shirts shouting for their classmates, Gym 2 feels like the Verizon Center.
Students who entered their robots in the Beauty Pageant sit behind their elaborate creations, many of which have moving parts, flashing lights, or other extras. These fully functioning robots are competing for the Beauty Bot awards.
Sharing the Spirit
This year, 40 elementary school students from Crestwood ES and Belle View ES were invited to watch the robots compete to be the fastest, strongest, smartest, and handsomest, while experiencing TJ’s infectious STEM spirit. The idea came out of TJ’s Faculty Diversity Committee, a group made up of teachers, an administrator, and a member of TJ admissions office that seeks to promote TJ to underrepresented groups and schools and to share our students’ love for STEM education. The visit was organized by TJ English teacher and Diversity Committee member Stephanie Glotfelty.
The young students, who arrived in time for 7th period, received a Research Lab tour, courtesy of TJ students, and spent some time in front of the green screen, courtesy of TJ Network/Systems Administrator Andrew Hamilton. They then broke up into four groups for 8th period activities that included a behind-the-scenes look at the Computer Systems Lab’s server room, a College & Career Center visit, and a chance to ask questions of student panelists.
The youngsters had front-row seats for much of the competition action, and when there was a lull, they examined the beauty contestants and voted for their favorites using Beauty Bot ballots.
Winning Robot’s Secret
All students begin with two servos (a type of motor), an Arduino board (circuit board on the Arduino open-source electronics platform), and a few additional components. They then put together the Arduino board, the servos, the wheels, etc, and design a case for a functioning robot. Finally, they program the Arduino chip to control the robot. The obstacle challenge is to hit four boards positioned near the entry corner, followed by as many additional boards as possible (for a total of ten), and for a bonus, to ascend a small ramp at the opposite corner.
After watching freshman Eric Link’s robot hit the first four boards and move on to the rest, IBET teacher Lewis said, “I have to say I am very impressed. In all my years at TJ, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Eric’s Grand Prize winning robot not only moved forwards and backwards, but sideways in both directions thanks to a third wheel in the back of the robot. His robot’s primary wheels are omni wheels, which are equipped with specialty rollers that allow the robot to slide sideways when a third wheel is engaged. To stay within the two-servo limit, Eric programmed the Arduino to ensure that only two servos would be active at one time. Two servos move the omni wheels forward and backward when those wheels are engaged, but turn off when another one comes on to power the back wheel.
Eric, who competes on TJ’s FIRST Robotics Competition team, said he had “very little” experience with Arduino before arriving at TJ. “I always want to be trying something that has not been tried or done before,” he said. “I was very happy when I achieved ten blocks, as that was my personal best. The competition was a lot of fun, and I’m glad that the school and the IBET technology teachers provide the opportunity to compete.”