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

The Last Three Robot Challenges

Posted on: February 6, 2012

The last three challenges of the LEGO portion of our show are:

#3 – Ribbon Climb

#2 – Battle Bots

and #1 – Inventorying the kits for next year.

Sorry for the trick, but we started trying to put the kits back in order.  Most weren’t done after a full hour.  All the groups have both a standard kit and a blue resource kit.  They were under orders not to borrow or loan to other groups.  That didn’t happen.  I needed the basic kits back in shape so the students next year can build the basic robot that we use for the first couple of months.  The kits are a complete mess.

One trick I came up with from  my manufacturing days…  I made photocopies of the groups of parts.  The student place the identical parts on their picture.  When the sheet is full, they deposit that sheet’s parts into the assigned storage location.  So simple a child can do it, or hopefully a high school senior.

On to the ribbon climb.  This was a variation of the rope climb, but the kids liked it a lot more.  The ribbon was a 7 foot-high, 3 inch-wide strip of manila folder that was covered on all sides with duct tape.  The folder gave it rigidity so that it could stay within edge guides.  The tape gave us protection from massive paper cuts and also provided a higher friction surface.

I educated the kids on the use of gears and mechanical advantage.  Some of them listened and their robots carried between 0.5 and 1.5 kg of additional weight up a ribbon.

The actual last challenge was Battle Bots.  The rules quickly morphed into the following, and it was a major hit.

  • Teams can battle every robot once a day for points.  I had to witness the point battles for it to count.  Teams can battle as often as they want, just not for points.
  • Robots can only be built with the parts in their two kits.  No outside materials are allowed.
  • You win by flipping your opponent’s robot over or pushing it out of the arena.  (Nobody got pushed out, the wall were too high – there will be lower walls next year.)
  • The battle goes one minute.  If at the end of a minute, there is no winner, both teams get one point.  If there is a winner, the winner gets 3 points, the loser gets 1 point.
  • You win by accumulating the most points over the period of 5 days.

This got them battling right away.  The robots were constantly improved and new strategies were tried.  In the end, there can be only one.


5 Responses to "The Last Three Robot Challenges"

Dear Scott:

First of all sorry for my terrible english, but I really liked this Last Three Robot Challenges. Nice idea your tricks !

Thank you very much for sharing and for letting me give my opinion. I am at your disposal.

Great post. I’m looking for a way to use the Lego robots in conjunction with earth science lessons. If you or anybody else have an idea, please let me know. Thanks.

Hi David, I think you could apply the whole robotic paradigm to any science. Creating a system design, building, programming, then rebuilding and testing until it works is a direct application of the scientific method. Even modeling bug movements would be a good fit.

Years ago, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) created a robot that ventured into a volcano. The same group at CMU also developed robots for Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. (I know this because they were my customer and used the software I sold for these applications.) It would be a cool idea to construct a model volcano and challenge the students to design a robot to climb down and back up. I found a link for the old RCX robot, apparently the folks at CMU already thought of something like this:

You could also “land” the robot on another planet and create a simulated spectrometer. Create different soils by mixing in some colored beads. Then use the color sensor to sniff out elements represented by the beads.

I’m sure I could come up with more, but I don’t know the curriculum of earth science. What else do you cover in the course?

Thanks Scott! I could use each idea. We teach a lot of catastrophic events science (volcanoes, what causes storms, earthquakes), oceanography, earh in space (sun, earth, moon relationship) solar system, and seasons. Newtons Laws are squeezed in.

Also I just sent completed a robotics seminar at Carnegie Mellon. I will have to contact them for more info.

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