Robotics club rumbles to third
Photo by Neil Etienne
Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School’s robotics club had a successful first round to the season, sending two teams to Oshawa Dec. 3. The team of (from left) Riley Denbok, Cory Stegelmeier, Sean Buller and Slater Johnston earned third overall while also claiming the Sportsmanship Award.
BRACEBRIDGE — It has no eyes, but it can see. It has no mind, but there’s a wealth of intelligence behind it. It has no desire, no will, no determination, and yet all of those things earned it praise, a plaque and trophy in a massive tournament held Dec. 3 in Oshawa.
The Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School’s robotics club had great success in its first major tournament of the year, pitting their small but stubborn creations against high school students from across the province at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
BMLSS sent two squads of four to the competition. The A team rolled their way to a third-place finish and garnered the tournament’s Sportsmanship Award.
The robots were built from a kit designed by toy maker Lego. The students had to design a small vehicle that could work its way around at least two laps of an enclosed course, without any remote control or human interference.
In addition to building the physical model, the students also had to design the computer software and programming that allowed the robot-on-wheels to think its way around as quickly as possible. The robots need to be able to knock out their competition and get out of any trouble posed by the competition.
“No question, the hardest part is the programming,” explained the A team’s most experienced builder, Cory Stegelmeier. “Our main priority with the design was just not to get stuck. But it’s nice to see when your programming works; you’re typing stuff into a computer and it should work in theory, but you never know how it will work in practice until you try.”
BMLSS’s A team used a series of various sensors to help their robot around the semi-circular course. The course had about four lanes painted in different colours, barriers on the outside edges and one dividing its centre.
Sensors on the robot’s front acted as visual aids to keep it straight and off the barriers as much as possible, while an ingenious system of sensors underneath could determine what lane it was in by reading the colour.
Teammate Sean Buller explained their vehicle was built to be stable; it was low to the ground with a four-wheel drive system, roll bars to prevent it from flipping over and a short wedge on its front to tip over any competitor robots it may have bumped into along the way. Robots need to complete at least two laps and can gain additional points by knocking out competition on the way, so the team decided to sacrifice speed for control and stability.
“It’s like the tortoise and the hare,” Slater Johnston explained. The robot was given a “fail safe” device, where it would send itself into reverse briefly if it did get hung up or stuck for five seconds while trying to move forward, he added.
Their “bot” was nearly perfect through the preliminary rounds, winning three of its first four races, then plowing its way through the semifinals by tipping over robots that may have had a speedy edge but lacked control. Speed of the laps, points for tipping over competition and the engineering of the computer systems are all taken into account in determining the winner.
The finals are a series of three races where the top two times are accumulated and the slowest time cast off.
The A team ended up in third due to slower times, but was lauded for its engineering and programming. It also earned the Sportsmanship award for boisterous cheering. The B team did not place, but fared well with a similar design that may need a few tweaks before the next tournament, in March 2012.
Khai Woo, BMLSS computer science teacher and the club’s instructor, said he was incredibly impressed with the teams’ designs, calling the A team’s one of the best he’s seen in the four years the program has been running out of the school.
“What they put together is quite complicated and very sophisticated,” he said. “It’s probably one of the most complex designs I’ve seen.”
He added that the club is an excellent way for the students to learn the finer points of engineering design and computer programming.
“It mimics closely to what they would experience in the real world and the need for cooperation between team members,” he said. “They can plan for things like any engineer would, but due to environmental factors, things may not work out like they planned and they figure out why.”