Xian Eutsler welds on the frame for the robot in the UNM-LA shop. She did all the welding on the Los Alamos FIRST Robotics project. Photo by TK Thompson/ladailypost.com
By Bonnie Gordon
In six short weeks, a team of 14 Los Alamos High School students and 10 adult mentors built a robot that can shoot hoops. The team began work Jan. 7 and wrapped up the project Feb 21.
The group is competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition. The competition involves short games played by robots. The students build and program their robots, which are remotely controlled during the competition.
Each team receives a kit of parts made up of motors, batteries, a control system, a PC and a mix of automation components – but no instructions. Designing and programming the robot is up to the students.
This year’s competition is Rebound Rumble. The object is to manipulate the robot to score as many baskets as possible during a two-minute and 15 second match. The competition also includes a balancing component in which the robots are required to balance on a bridge. The group is heading to Salt Lake City March 15 to compete in the regional round of the competition.
Steve and Tiffany Anton founded the team. Tiffany started with robotics in high school and the couple was involved in a FIRST competition associated with Virginia Tech before moving to Los Alamos. Steve is a post-doctoral fellow in mechanical engineering at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“We had the vision of starting a team in Los Alamos,” Steve said. “We got Don Davis’ name and hooked up with him, which was great because he teaches robotics at Los Alamos High School and at UNM-Los Alamos.”
The team received grants from Los Alamos National Bank, the local chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, NASA and JC Penney.
The competition is billed as “the hardest fun you’ll ever have,” and the group members agree on both counts. It’s fun but its hard work.
The group was divided into teams to work on the various aspects of designing, programming and building the robot. They worked in the shop and lab facilities and UNM-LA. The whole team decided what they wanted the robot to do.
“I’m a self-proclaimed geek,” declared Casey Aumack, a member of the construction team that did the actual building of the robot. “It’s an awesome experience. It’s a great robot that shoots balls — how cool is that? It’s so awe inspiring.”
The robot wouldn’t know what to do without a program and that was the job of the programming team. The group programmed the robot in a graphical programming language called LABVIEW 6.
“Nothing is simple with the programming. It’s not as easy as it looks,” said Cameron Tauxe, a member of the programming team.
“We work closely with the electronics guys,” said Jackie Cooke of the programming team. “When we want to test something, the electronics guys wire it up. We have to communicate what we need. We write code that shows what we want to happen.”
The electronics team built the processor that handles input and output to the device. It’s the electronics team that makes the motors run.
When the team arrives in Salt Lake, they’ll need to scout for two other teams to form an alliance. The three-robot alliances compete against each other.
“The scouts will check out the other robots and get to know the other teams so we can make the best choice,” explained Ben Schilling, a member of the construction team.
The team worked down to the wire on Feb 21 to get the robot ready and packaged for the competition.
“The thing I like the most about the contest is that there are few other programs this intense,” said Kirk Thompson, mentor to the programming team. “The time is short, you have a limited budget and you have to figure it all out. The rules of the contest are geared to make us use our brains to make what we have the best.”
The robot must balance on a bridge during the competition. Photo by TK Thompson/ladailypost.com
The robot practices shooting baskets – a big part of the upcoming competition. Photo by TK Thompson/ladailypost.com