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Adventure Science Center Blog

Science Educators and guest authors exploring our world and the science and technology that connects us

 

ROBOTS PRINTING ROBOTS by Omar Peña, Makerspace Educator

We live in a world where robots can build other robots.

In fact, 3D printing technology has advanced so much that robots can actually 3D print other robots.

Did you know you don’t even have to travel to a high-tech laboratory to see this?! Inside Adventure Science Center’s makerspace, the Innovation Incubator (aka I2), you can get up-close-and-personal with 3D printing and robotics. I could go on and on about the incredible technology in I2, but this isn’t a blog about our makerspace… it’s a story about a robotics team.

In August 2017, Torque Force – a team of high schoolers both new and seasoned to the world of robotics – came to the science center for guidance in preparing for the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) league, a global competition in programming and robotics. Along with the help of another coach, I had the privilege of mentoring these young engineers to build, program, and compete with a robot built in I2.

FTC consists of unique challenges a robot has to complete, which can include anything from grappling small objects to balancing on an unbalanced surface, in order to earn points. Teams are provided a specific set of parts and only a few weeks to build a robot with them. What makes this competition unique is that teams can use other technologies for fabricating specialized parts to give them a competitive edge. That’s where 3D printing comes into play… in a big way.

Using computers in I2 to model specific modifications, Torque Force created 3D printed brackets for the electronic components that helped to lighten the load. As with all engineering problems, this highly iterative process required LOTS of trial and error. But, the team took the time to find the correct models, run a few test prints, and, ultimately, find the perfect fit. 3D printing is very precise, but sometimes you have to tinker with the 3D prints in order to get things right, which is just what the team had to do to mount the electronics to the robot frame successfully.

Before we knew it, competition season was quickly approaching. While competitions are held all over the country, we set our sights on competing in the regional ones. Not unlike sports competitions, robot competitions are high-energy environments with excitement all around. You walk into a large gym with spectators filling the stands, teams are bustling around putting the finishing touches on their robots, and, in the middle of it all, there’s a large area for the true action of the day… the challenge arena.

 

In FTC, teams are paired to compete against each other to earn points. Each team gains points throughout the rounds, and can even win awards for other initiatives, like “Good Sportsmanship” and “Community Engagement.” At the end of the day, the team with the most points wins.

Although we faced some hiccups throughout the season, Torque Force remained strong and never gave up! We endured through some tough problems, but, in the end, we all had a great experience using robots to build other robots. I’m proud of what we accomplished as a team and look forward to building on this experience for years to come.

- Omar Peña, Makerspace Educator

Don’t forget to join us TOMORROW (Saturday, April 14) for Robotics Day! Torque Force will be showing off their robot and sharing their experience in the FIRST Tech Challenge, and our friends from Middle Tennessee Robotic Arts Society (MTRAS) and Team Divergence (FIRST LEGO League competitors) will also be there to talk all things robotics. Learn more»
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