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Ready for the Return of Robotics?

Are you ready for the kickoff of the 2012 US FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC)? I am! In about 12 hours I’ll be in the middle of an excited group of high school kids at the St Louis Planetarium watching a video broadcast from Southern New Hampshire University – Manchester Campus via NASA broadcast where this years competition will be announced!

Last year was my first season of mentoring the Roborebels Team 1329. It was an amazing experience. I can’t wait to hear this year’s challenge. Will the robot be required to drive, climb, grab, jump, or even swim? Or some combination of these? We will find out soon! We will spend the weekend brainstorming designs and poring over the design specs. At the end of the 7 week build season the robots will be put to the test is friendly co-optition as founder Dean Kamen likes to describe it.

I was amazed by what the students designed and built last year. I’m sure this year will be the same.

From an educational side, it is such an inspiring sight to see so many young men and women getting excited about science and engineering. After all, it will be up to them in a few years to take the lead in our economy and solve the next generation of technical challenges.

In the mean time, I need to put on my safety glasses and roll up my sleeves to help the students.

Best of luck to everyone involved!

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A Different Kind of ‘Bot

RoborebelsIn my techno thriller Counting from Zero, I write about a botnet, short for robot network – a group of compromised computers organized using the Internet to act in coordinated ways. These ‘bots are used to launch packet flooding attacks called distributed denial of service attacks, or DDOS. In short they are bad news, and my protagonist invests considerable energy in tracking down the botnet to try to neutralize it.

Today, I’m writing about a very different ‘bot – a robot that I have helped build as part of the robotics club at my son’s school. I’m taking the day off work to help setup in readiness for tomorrow’s robotics competition.

This is my first year as a mentor of roborebels robotics club at St Louis Priory School, Team #1329 FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). For the past 7 weeks we have been constructing the robot and writing the Java software to control it.  I have really enjoyed the experience.  From watching the kickoff video, reading the rule book, brainstorming the design, to actually constructing and driving the robot: it has been great!  I’ve been really impressed with the way the high school kids have taken on the challenge.  At the start, it is obvious some have never used power tools before, but by the end, they don’t think twice as they move from the drill press to the chop saw.

FIRST Robotics

This year’s game is called “Logomotion”, and the robots have to hang inflated tubes on pegs on the wall.  It should be a lot of fun!   The day when we hung our first tube on a hook 10 ft (3m) up in the air was really a thrill.  Now we will see if we can do it in the competition!

After spending a day getting our robot ready and practicing the game, I’m just amazed at the variety and creativity of all the groups.  We all started with the same goals and description, but came up with so many different designs, shapes, and styles.  Now, I can’t wait for tomorrow’s competition.  And it is nice to be working with a good ‘bot for a change.

roborebels First Robotics Competition FRC Robot

roborebels First Robotics Competition FRC Robot at 2011 St. Louis Regional Comptetition

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