Engineering can be fun, challenging, and thrilling. While most kids today may not see it that way, that perception is changing thanks to programs like Dean Kamen’s For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST). As part of this competition, teams of students build robots and go head to head, trying to complete particular challenges. The program involves more than 150,000 students ages 6 to 18 and 44,000 mentors competing in nearly 40 countries.
Many of these students are veterans of previous robot wars, too. Hailing from Green Hope High School in Cary, N.C., Team Awkward Turtle took first place in the 2007 VirginiaFIRST regional competition and set its sights on repeating its success in the 2008 event, held earlier this month (Video 1: http:/electronicdesign.com/video/editorial/0308_firstvideo_
people.html). And this year, teams had to prepare for Overdrive. Two alliances comprising three teams each would work to maneuver their robots counter-clockwise around a track while moving large balls over and/or under an overpass bisecting the track (Fig. 1).
During the first part of the match, which runs for 2 minutes and 15 seconds, the robots operate in hybrid mode via pre-programmed instructions and transmitted information. During the second part, drivers assume total control of the robots. The alliance with the highest score at the end of the match wins. This challenge is different from last year’s, so Team Awkward Turtle had to come up with a new design. With the help of Qimonda North America Corp. and other sponsors, it developed Zippy2 (Fig. 2).
Built on a solid drive train, the robot uses Mechanum wheels for better agility (Video 2: http://electronicdesign.com/video/editorial/0308_firstvideo_design.html). Its “snapper” can capture and possess a trackball on the run without needing a wall of other fixed object to hold it. Its three-stage lift mechanism uses a 16° angle to move the center of gravity of the ball and arm assembly back toward the robot the higher it’s lifted, enhancing overall stability. The snapper can remove balls from the overpass during hybrid mode and place them back at the end of the match. The team also pre-programmed Zippy2 with multiple dip-switch selectable hybrid cards so it can choose the best hybrid mode based on its alliances and the opposition’s abilities.
Zippy2 fought its way into the finals, where it teamed up with robots from Norview High School and Fresta Valley Christian High School (see the video). These three robots squared off against droids from Deep Run High School, Southeast Raleigh Nagnet High School, and Hanover High School. Despite its unique engineering and a spirited match, Zippy2 took a couple of penalties, and its alliance had to settle for second place. Rest assured, though, that the team is hard at work preparing Zippy2 for its next competition, the national championship in April at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Team Awkward Turtle