Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

New LEGO Robot Challenges

Posted on: January 6, 2012

In the last couple of weeks we’ve done some new LEGO Robot Challenges and I’m really pleased at how they turned out.

First was my LEGO version of the Hungry Hippo game.  The students were tasked with creating a robot that drives around gathering balls and marbles.  The robot that collects the most points worth of marbles and balls in 60 seconds wins the challenge.  The balls are the colored balls that are included in the robot kits.  The large balls are worth 5 points each, the marbles are worth 2 points.  Students had to come up with a strategy and then build to that strategy.  The best design drove around with a scoop on the front that shoveled the captured balls into a bin on top.  Many designs had rotating claws in front to direct the balls into a pen.

About a week into the challenge, students were tasked with doing a design review with another group.  They had to critique the other groups’ project and suggest ways to improve the design, then have the same done for their project.  All of the groups felt they got something out of the design review process.

The arena was our own Octagon I created out of 1×4’s.  Each side of the octagon was 24″ and the sides were held together with masking tape.  It was sturdy enough that the robots could bump into the walls and trigger a touch sensor.  The plan was to have the robots go head to head in the arena, but they all locked up so badly that each robot did individual one minute runs.

The latest challenge was a rope climb.  I first showed the kids a couple short videos on the space elevator and we had a short discussion on the cost benefits of such a system.  They were given a short week (4 days) to design a robot that could climb up a rope.  I hadn’t tried this before so I didn’t know what to expect.  I had a few robots climbing the rope within 30 minutes, so I had to up the ante.  Basically, they got a C if the robot climbed the rope.  If the climber carried a 0.5 kg weight up the rope, the group got a B.  If the robot managed to carry a full kilogram weight up the length of the rope, the students earned the A.  Only one group managed the A using an innovative design of tires and belts.

I’m going to challenge them to go back to the drawing board on this one and see who can carry the most weight up the rope.  After that, we are going to do Robot Wars in the Octagon.  The goal is to disable your opponent or remove them from the ring.  It should be fun.


4 Responses to "New LEGO Robot Challenges"

Excellent Scott! I’m just teaching Lego Robotics for the first time. Could you kindly tell me how you got the robots to climb the rope? What type of rope material did you use?

I used a piece of 1/2″ rope, but I wouldn’t use that. I tried the assignment and everyone had it climbing in under 30 minutes. It was a waste of time.

I next made a space elevator ribbon, that was so much better. You make the ribbon by cutting up folders into strips equal to the width of a piece of duct tape. The ends of the folders are cut at 45 degrees and mated into one long ribbon. Use a two pieces of duct tape to cover the folders. I start by taking a large section of duct tape and lay it out face up. Then I put sections of folder offset along the centerline of the tape. Build up the entire length, then fold the tape over. Use a second piece (or pieces) of tape to cover up the other half. My ribbon is about 8 ft long. I should get a few years out of it.

I tried two other versions of this, one of just duct tape, one with two layers of folder. One thickness of folder is enough to allow them to build edge guides but also have it follow along the guide wheels. Without folders inside the tape will slide off the climbing wheels. Two was too thick.

I don’t give the kids any designs, I just attach the space ribbon and tell them to go at it and figure out how to carry the most cargo into space. I also make a couple short pieces of the ribbon for them to work at their station.

Thanks for your help and suggestions to make the rope climb more of a challenge. Best of luck in your teaching career. What’s it like teaching in a charter school?

Teaching in a charter school has been great. The kids more or less want to be here, as opposed to the local public school, which has often been described as a jungle. The administration is excellent. The only downside is the money.

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