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Evolution Of A Robot

Globe native Darrel Yerkovich is one of four mentors of TigeRobotics, Globe High School’s robotics team. In this piece, he guides readers through the process of building this year’s robot, as well as this year’s team and team work space. This is the second year since the team’s inception that TigeRobotics will compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition, an international competition attracting high school robotics teams from around the world to engineer and program robots capable of competing against other team robots. For coverage of this year’s upcoming competition in April, pick up the next issue of Globe Miami Times and check back here! 

By Darrel YerkovichI’ve been mentoring TigeRobotics, Globe High School’s robotics team, for the past 13 months. Last year, we had a rocky start but still managed to be competitive (see footage here). This year, we were able to build a robot that stacks trash cans and totes, which we will use to compete in this year’s FIRST Robotics Competition: Recycle Rush.

test!!dakfj kladsj kfjasd;k jfkl;ajdskfja;k djlk;aThe TigeRobotics team began their build season early last December by cleaning out what used to be the kiln room in the high school’s basement.

After a few coats of paint and finally getting lighting to a bare minimum level, we had a clean slate to begin building our lab.

We built some really simple work benches, and by the kick off on January 3, we were finally getting to the point where the lab and organization was really starting to pay off.

By January 7, we decided to repurpose a T-shirt launcher we previously built and use it to practice manipulating totes with. Until this point, we had been very optimistic about this year’s game. After a few experiments, however, we began to realize how critical it was for our robot to be able to interface with totes of any orientation very quickly.

Early in January, BlueLine Rental brought a small army of equipment to demonstrate for the robotics club and provide some inspiration for our robot. We were primarily interested in the mechanical configuration of equipment.

After a week of fierce deliberation discussing game theory, the action began with the initial assembly of this year’s drive base.

Our ideas started taking shape. Inspired by BlueLine’s knuckle boom (above), we decided to build something similar to the lower portion of the lifting mechanism for our main lifting arms.

After a bit of head scratching, we figured out that the mechanism used in the real world is slightly more complicated than it seems. However, by adding pulleys on each set of arms, we are able to make the lower arms rotate up the exact same amount, but in the opposite direction as the upper arms. Quite pleased with our ingenuity, we proceeded to create a competition-worthy set of arms.

Dreaming up how the mechanism will work and finally deciding to go with one design is sometimes the most excruciating part. Once the main objective is relatively clear, it is easy to slowly and steadily toil away at the thousands, if not tens of thousands, of little steps that need to take place for a robot to be completed.

On several recent occasions, we have been asked the question “How did you guys do that?” – a question that is actually much more difficult to answer than I would have thought. The TigeRobotics team didn’t just show up, bolt a few things together and have a robot. The pieces and parts that make up this year’s robot are all very generic, and much of the robot is made from scratch via raw materials. In December, many of the students had never drilled through a piece of aluminium. By the end of January, we had students with enough proficiency to mentor other students within the club (see right).

Though the robotics lab is still very much a work in progress, we’re slowly hacking away at the little nuances that show we’re serious about robotics. By early February, we had a decent system of organization in the lab. Minus the high demand for 7/16 wrenches and sockets, we’re spending more of our time learning to work on the robot, and less time looking for things.

By Febuary 6, we had our robot 90 percent complete. Here it is that Friday night:

Everything worked perfectly. As you could see, the lift was able to move to 78″ in height in a motion that is straight up and down. The only thing we were missing was the arms to grab the totes. This is where it gets messy; FRC game rules require the entire robot to weigh less than 120 pounds. The weight of this robot was just about at 120 pounds. Unfortunately, 12 days before bag day and seven days from a practice match at Arcadia High School, we were forced to abandon this beauty in lieu of a lighter design.

By Saturday afternoon, we had the robot torn all the way down to the drive base and were trying out some new configurations.

Six days later, we had narrowly just enough time to complete our lifting arms, stack one tote, and then pack up for “Duel in the Desert” at Arcadia High School the next day.

Duel in the Desert was the first time we’ve actively worked beside and competed with other teams since last year’s competition. Unlike most high school sports, FRC promotes a very active environment of mentorship and cooperation between competing teams. We were 07a resized IMG_0799looking forward to spending the day learning from more experienced teams. To our surprise, however, before we could even finish unloading our stuff, other schools were asking us to help them with their robots. It was wonderful to see all of the robotics clubs working together to solve the technical problems each team was experiencing. We especially worked  closely with the Superior and San Carlos teams. In fact, since our time was so productive on Saturday, TigeRobotics hosted a work session on the following Monday to ensure that Superior and San Carlos would have competition-ready robots come April 2 through 4 at Grand Canyon University. See video footage by Kenneth Chan Photography here:

We had just enough time to work out a few of the kinks we discovered at Duel in the Desert before we had to bag and tag our robot Tuesday night. (All teams competing in FIRST have to stop building their robot on the same day, and bag and store it until competition day.)

So, to answer the question, “How did you guys do that?”: perseverance.

As Dean Kamen, the founder of FIRST, points out, “It is not about the robots.” (Great interview with Kamen here.) It is about inspiring kids with what is possible with STEM and building the imagination and confidence of the individuals who will shape the future and who will have to make hard decisions. TigeRobotics has exceptional students who have demonstrated the will to learn and stick with it despite large obstacles, frequent failures and occasionally having to deal with a rather grumpy mentor.

I am quite proud to be part of an organization that promotes real world experience rather than the usual sterility of classroom STEM education. Providing opportunities like this to students takes a lot of work and significant help from the community. I hope this support is continued and expanded as Miami High School begins their robotics program soon.

Erik Hertwig, Kenneth Chan and RJ Castaneda have donated significant amounts of their free time to make this happen. If you appreciate the progress TigeRobotics has made, please reach out to these mentors with a warm thank you.

Without them, this project would be nothing more than a box of parts and some aluminium.

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