It’s Week 3 of your inside look at our Caterpillar-sponsored and mentored FIRST Robotics Competition teams as they complete the robotics “build season.”
In case you missed them, read about Week 1 Activities with The Roboteers of Tremont, Illinois, and Week 2 Activities with ‘Icarus’ of Peoria, Illinois.
Week 3: Autonomous / Drivetrain / Electrical / Programming
With nearly half of the six-week robotics build season complete, the Harrison Boiler Robotics team of West Lafayette, Indiana, is focusing on some strategic advantages and collaborating across sub-teams to ensure their final construction meets the mark.
Each round of play in this year’s game begins with a 15-second autonomous period, where the robots follow pre-programmed instructions and have no human input. As you can imagine, this is a challenging task to complete, and not all teams are able to utilize the autonomous period or gain the valuable points available during this time. However, the students of the Harrison Boiler Robotics team decided to use this period of low competition to their strategic advantage. By accomplishing some of the key game tasks – including crossing defenses and shooting “boulders” into goals – in autonomous mode, the team believes it will set them up to succeed during the human-controlled period.
For both autonomous and human-controlled play, the students’ robot will need a robust drive train that will allow them to conquer the various defenses, which have unique and unstable surfaces. The team steered away from using a four- or six-wheel drive train for fear of getting high-centered on certain defenses, like the rock wall or moat. Considering the various terrains and hoping to deliver greater pushing power, the team chose to use a ‘Rhino Drive,’ a tank-style drive with tread – perhaps they took a lesson from Caterpillar’s Track-Type Tractors!
Building on the decision to deploy a tank drive, the programming team has been developing the drivetrain code which will utilize smooth drive, deploying a sigmoid curve to reduce stress on the motors. The programming team is also working on writing code for the “boulder intake” mechanism – after all, a robot must pick up the boulders before throwing them! Mounted above the intake and shooters are two cameras which must also be coded. Serving as the robot’s eyes, the cameras will use a basic vision code, allowing the robot to track and use the retro-reflective tape on the field as guides toward its various tasks.
Serving in a supporting role for the other construction teams, the electrical team has already built several test boards, which are being used to test the shooter for the robot and testing the drivetrain code. Always looking for energy efficiency, the team is currently working on a method for getting the motor controllers directly onto the drive base, removing the need for extra gears, chains or belts.
“A good way to describe Week 3 is a confluence of chaos!” said Scott Schwartz, an engineer at our Lafayette Engine Center who supports the team. “Bringing together the various components and systems into single functioning robot can be very chaotic, but it’s very similar to what we experience at work. It’s a great way to develop critical thinking skills. In addition, the students are learning the practical skills such as soldering and how it is used when building a robot.”
About Harrison Boiler Robotics
The Harrison Boiler Robotics team (identified in the FIRST Robotics community as Team #1747) has been building robots and engaging in STEM programs since 2006. The team has 52 members and operates out of William Henry Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Indiana. With an extensive set of outreach programs, Team 1747 has introduced over 17,000 people to FIRST in the past year.
The students have 14 mentors including teachers, professionals, parents, and Purdue students, and also receive support from two Caterpillar engineers. Following the build season, they plan to compete in three Indiana District tournaments including: Tippecanoe, March 12-13 (the team is not only competing, they are hosting this tournament!); Perry Meridian, March 19-20; and Walker Warren, March 25-26. Like all of their peers around the globe, the ultimate goal of the team is to earn the right to compete at the FIRST Robotics World Championship April 27-30.