First of all, crazy how long since we last put anything up here.
I guess we’ve been busy!
If you haven’t seen it yet, please take a look at the GearsBot platform that Cort has created in the past couple of years.
It’s been a labor of love – an completely open-source and free top-of-the-line realistic, robotics simulator. It has block-based programming, Python, and is compatible with EV3 APIs, so can be used in conjunction with LEGO robotics education. It had helped us, and countless others like us, keep going during the pandemic video-conferencing days and the ensuing transformation in online education.
As of late, Cort has been doing is utmost to keep the Missions category of the simulator up to date with the latest competition models.
For this year’s FIRST LEGO League (FLL), Cort has created an early tutorial video for most of the missions that helps participants visualize the mission models before they can get their hands on it. Subscribe to our channel and be the first to see what comes next:
I eventually decided on a control scheme where the motor is turned in reverse to pull back the “spring”, and turned forward (…by any amount) to trigger the launch. Launch power is controlled by the amount of pull back; the more you pull back, the greater the eventual launch velocity.
This control scheme addresses the first and second requirements, but is it plausible to implement it with real Lego parts? I’m pretty sure I cannot match the size and performance of the simulated paintball launcher, but I wanted to make sure that it’s possible to build a device that can at least achieve the same functionality.
I built this ball launcher as a proof-of-concept. It uses a single medium motor to both pull the rack back and trigger the launch, in the same manner as the simulated paintball launcher in GEARS. The key to the way it works lies in the…
Pivoted pinion gears
Pivoted Pinion Gears
A couple of rubber bands pull this upwards to mesh with the rack, but with sufficient force, it can be pushed down to release the rack and allow it to shoot forward.
The ratchet mechanism allows the pinion to turn freely clockwise (…when pulling back the rack), but when the pinion attempts to turn counter-clockwise (…forward direction), the pawl will engage, causing the pinion to push itself downwards instead. This disengages the pinion from the rack, allowing it to shoot forward and launch the ball.
As expected, the launcher’s performance is underwhelming; the ball can’t travel more than a few centimeters before hitting the ground. But as a proof-of-concept, it demonstrates that the control mechanism used in the simulator is viable in real life.
To improve performance, we can increase the number of rubber bands. Increasing the length of the rack to allow the rubber bands to be stretched more could help, but that may also worsen performance by increasing the amount of dead weight that needs to be accelerated forward. If the velocity is increased, it may also be a good idea to add some kind of damper at the front to prevent damages to the plastic parts.
If you managed to build a better launcher with the same control scheme, send me a video and I’ll link to it here.
As we were looking around for best practice solutions to continue teaching Robotics in the virtual classroom, VEX announced its release of VEXcode VR. Besides being made free for public and educational use, the VEXcode VR platform was designed an equalizer, so that no matter what device you had access to, you could participate in online STEM learning.
This platform just ticked the box for all of the requirements that were suddenly coming fast and furious from schools, who wanted to resume enrichment programs through virtual classrooms:
Block Programming + Python API
Simulated Sensors & Actuators
Algorithmic Challenges – not just hard-coding paths
Fun to play with!
Soft Hardware Requirements – Can be used on iPads or other Tablets
Enough depth for 1-2 months of lessons (wishful thinking)
There’s an Art Canvas for Turtle programming, a Maze for path creation and algorithmic way-finding, a Castle for a bumper/crasher game, an electromagnet-based game challenge for collecting game elements on the field. Grids that can be used to teach some abstract math concepts, like 2D coordinate systems. It’s quite robust, too!
Is it a perfect platform? No.
Some glaring issues:
No way to simulate line-following, one of the main use-cases of Robotics competitions in primary and secondary school level events.
No way for two robots to interact on a single game field concurrently
No way to design robots
No moving actuator (only an electromagnet)
A too-perfect simulation, physics engine-wise
Limited scope with no obvious pipeline of expansion
Still, we want to thank VEX and Innovation First for their generous and timely release. If nothing else, it has piqued our interest again in creating our own Robotics Simulation toolkit (TBC).
So far 2020 has been a long parade of kicks in the butt! But, A Posteriori has always possessed a great sense of humor, and while we take the utmost precautions dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and strictly adhere to health regulations, we have also tried to keep up with programs and offerings for our students.
In April, we moved online to conduct part of our Applied Learning Program (ALP) in Electronics, Programming, Design Thinking on the theme of Active Living. We managed to get the students to take physical kits home, and setup virtual classrooms of Discord mainly. Discord, which is free, has a natural “room” or “team” setup, so we could work with multiple design groups separately and almost concurrently – similar to walking around the classroom from desk to desk. Except it wasn’t, and only a half or so of the secondary school students managed to participate actively for the online duration of the program.
Some of the results were really great:
Dance Dance Revolution console for disabled people – large 4-button distributed keyboard that can be used by any combination of whole or damaged limbs. The project used Makey Makey to receive game control input, and an Arduino with PulseSensor to monitor heart-rate.
Several jumping, push-up, or hand exercise virtual games with playful characters responding in real-time. Mostly utilizing ultrasonic and PIR sensors.
A Cyclotron using simple IR reflective sensor with Arduino.
Several lock boxes – for your smartphone – that unlock after some heartrate has been achieved for a specified duration.
We really had fun supporting this cohort of Sec-2 students.
BTW – not this one: “cher” as in short for teacher:
We didn’t plan on running any holiday programmes in March this year, but a group of parents requested for it, so we came up with the idea of combining water rockets with micro:bits. The micro:bit is used to measure flight acceleration, and can also be used to measure flight time.
In the morning, the kids learned about how rockets work and tested different stabilizing fins designs. Then after lunch, they constructed their rocket, programmed the micro:bits, and drop-tested it before the actual launch. We didn’t have time during this one-day programme for everyone to construct their own launcher, so we used one that we’ve built the day before.
On 26 Dec 2019, Singapore experienced an annular eclipse. As a service to the community, we ran a free programme open to the public. Had a good turnout with about a dozen kids, and a surprising number of adults from the nearby businesses joined in as well.
We started with the science behind solar eclipses (slides are here if you want to use it for your own eclipse activities)…
Everyone built their own pinhole viewers…
…but the one I prepared was a little bigger than the rest…
We mounted a few Shade 12 welding glasses to cardboard frames for direct viewing…
As well as some lenses and mirrors for projection onto a wall…
A micro:bit was used to track and generate a live plot of the light level as the eclipse progresses. Didn’t take any photos of the micro:bit setup, but we wrapped it with some packing foam to diffuse and attenuate the light.
The Marine Expedition Sept program is now over! But we’ll be running more programs during the year end holidays, so watch this space for updates, or better still, drop us an email and we’ll notify you when the programs are ready for registration.
We had a preview run of the Marine Expedition programme for our regular students who couldn’t make it for the Sept camp. One of our students designed and built this trimaran, driven by a centrifugal pump jet and controlled with a micro:bit.
The pump jet is rather under-powered for the size of the boat, but it’s low power demands and easy installation makes it a good choice for use as station keeping or maneuvering thrusters. Other choices for boat propulsions includes propellers, paddle wheels, fans, and many more.
If you would like to join the Marine Expedition programme, there are still a few days left to sign up here. We also do fun and educational stuff like this and more during our regular classes. Contact us to find out more.