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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dogs Days of Build Season

Three weeks from today the build season will be over. Hard to tell if that is a long way away or really, really, soon. The energy level of the team seemed a little lower today. After pushing SO HARD at the beginning of the season to do so many things, it is really hard to keep that energy level up for six consecutive weeks. Luckily, the high school does not have school tomorrow (water main broke). Hopefully everyone on the team can use that time to refresh their batteries. This is like mid July for the baseball season (even the weather felt that way today).

The team worked on a few different projects (as always). The big ones were finishing the horn, assembling our new electrical board, and painting the mascot body. Gabe did a great job taking pictures today.

Many students worked on finishing the horn prototype. We got all the pieces mounted including the arm and the catcher. The new developments were that we got the servo motor which will release the arm mounted. Really good work by Brandon and Tyler mostly. We should be able to fully test it tomorrow.

The other big project was assembling the electrical board. We decided to change it up because of the shooter being switched around. We are going to have all of our electronics mounted in the middle of the bot. The motor controllers, spike relays, power distribution, and side car will be on the bottom level. The modem, cRio, and circuit breaker will be on top. It is a compact design that will end up saving us weight. Bryce, Allen, Bydlon, Gabe, and a few other students worked on it. This will be completed tomorrow. All that's left is mounted the upper level on extrusion.

Jesse and Steph continued their work on the mascot. They started painting the body of the mascot with black spray paint. They also cut out the team's icon which will be painted blue.

Jenna worked on a bunch of different projects. One project was starting the process for going to our Regional at the U of M. This includes making transportation and hotel arrangements. The other project was editing the Business Plan. Jenna had the business teacher at our school read through it and make corrections. Thanks Mrs. Watts!

The team won't meet until 3pm tomorrow because of the school shut down. Hopefully (crossing my fingers and toes), we will finish the electrical board and wheels tomorrow. This will allow us to have a driving robot with added refinements. The rest of the week would then be making our prototypes out of Lexan. Only 21 more days!!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Around the Horn

The biggest excitement for the team today turned out to not really be that exciting after all. The dead line for paying for your second Regional Event (Duluth for us) was Friday but we got it extended to today. We had a bunch of discussions on whether we wanted to go or not. The pros were: more opportunities for advancing to Nationals, another trip to hang out as a team, and another chance to improve the robot before the U of M. The cons were: it costs a lot of money (for individuals and the team), we probably wouldn't be able to bring everyone, it would leave us in a pretty sad state next year and this off season financially, and there would be more school missed. Ultimately we decided against it. The cons really outweighed the pros. We are trying to build something great in our school and community and we want to keep that going rather than take the selfish route and go to Duluth. The U of M is still really awesome and we are doing everything we can during the build season to make a great robot for it.

As far as actual build advancement today, we got quite a bit done. We finished the prototype of the "horn" on the front of the robot. This will allow us to push down the bridge to go to the other side of field or balance on the bridge at the end of the game. Ryan, Tyler, Brandon, and Bydlon worked hard on designing, machining, and mounting the components. Bryce explains in this YouTube video how the mechanism will work. We can't test it quite yet but the concept and execution looks great.

Bryce worked on re-making the electronics board. Our original idea was to have the board vertical connected to the gatherer. Our plans changed last week when we turned the shooter around. So we needed to re-think the board. Our new idea is to mount the electronics in the middle of the bot right in front of the gatherer. We will have two levels of electronics. Bryce made quite a bit of progress. All we have to do is re-mount the components and build the second level. This will be completed tomorrow.

Ryan re-worked the shooter and gatherer connection so the basketball will not get stuck in between. 

Jenna's projects for today included many things. She made a handout about the U of M competition reminding team members we are asking for some monetary contribution to help pay for hotels. She also made some photo collages for new posters (example below). Jenna, Megan, and Colin worked on budgeting out hotels and transportation for the U of M regional. Lots more to do tomorrow.

It was a good day where the team accomplished quite a bit. The sense of accomplishment was back and the energy level was definitely better. Crazy what a day off can do. More excitement tomorrow.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Stumbling Blocks

After so much success with prototypes and so many things working out with the team, it was inevitable some challenges would happen for the team soon. Unfortunately on Saturday, we ran into (literally) a big challenge: the bump in the middle of the field. We spent the past two days working on a wheel system that would get us over the bump and it didn't work. We also started working on vision processing (for finding the hoops) and an arm to push the bridge down so we can drive over it. Luckily, those went a little bit better.

First off, there are a couple visual changes to the blog. You probably noticed the new header visual (thanks Jenna). We will also be adding the Team Members page and a page describing our team and the mission of FIRST in the coming week or so. So look out for those.

In case you didn't know, the field for our competition is divided into two halves. Dividing these halves is a 4" tall by 6" wide bump and 3 bridges. Traversing these obstacles is essential to playing the game. Brandon, Ryan, and Tyler worked their butts off making a system to lower the bridge the past two days. It is really sweet! It's an arm with an angle piece coming down. It will rest on a platform with an L shaped plastic piece that is connected to a spring. At the beginning of the match, we will drop the arm and the spring loaded L shaped piece will keep the arm down during the match. I will upload some pictures on Monday which will make it easier to see. We haven't tested it yet (gulp) but we will do that on Monday. It looks awesome and it follows the big rule of KISS (keep it simple stupid).

The major project we worked on though was the wheel system. On Friday, we took the whole bot apart and started changing the wheels. We had to drop our wheels down so that the frame could fit over the bump. This is a much bigger task than it sounds. It requires cutting and drilling new axle holes in 12 pieces of extrusion. Then we had to put new chains on each gearbox and make new spacers for each wheel. This is a LONG process that we spent literally 9 hours on Saturday working on. Bryce's dad came and helped get the chains and spacers ready which was really nice. So we were feeling really good after getting the entire robot back together and the wheels on and working. Until... we tested it. There is a YouTube video up of the test. We were all so tired that you can't really tell how disappointing it was. However, the team is resilient and will think of another mechanism to go over the bump. No worries.

Colin and Megan worked on getting the image processing for the camera going. The LabView programming has the power to recognize shapes and colors including the metal rectangles behind the hoops. This will allow us to program the robot to find the hoops and aim for us. 

Our energy was still really low after working for so long during the week. Plus, the team members are still students and involved in many other things (including work and church and speech and homework). They're commitment is incredible and inspiring. We are half done! That's both awesome and scary. The challenges presented to us will be overcome though.We ended the night by playing some Rock Band to relieve stress.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Wheels on the Robot Go Round and Round

Today was not the best day ever. After working really hard the past three days and having a ton of success picking up balls and shooting them, we finally started to tackle our other issues. Those being: bringing down the bridge (so we can drive over it) and changing the wheels (so we can drive over the bump). The problem is that these issues are not as easily fixed. We also fixed some programming issues, worked on the mascot some more, and finished up getting ready for the Ice Fishing Tournament fundraiser.

Before we started working on the robot again, the team got together and had a meeting. During the meeting, we discussed some important upcoming dates. The dates included the ice fishing tournament, a team movie showing (Real Steel), the last day of build season, the Duluth regional visit, and the U of M Regional. We also discussed a media release form and, in general, how the team is doing. Good times and lots of laughs also occurred.

After that, we moved down to the robot room to start working. Our first task was the completely take apart the bot. This was necessary to fix our wheel situation. Initially, we just threw the kit wheels on but they have a 3" radius. The bump in the middle of the field is 4". This will not work. Our plan is to put 4" radius wheels on stilts and then have two of the 3" radius wheels at the very front of the robot. The small wheels will help the big wheels get a little bit off the ground and then the big wheels will push the rest of the way (that's the plan anyway.........). The mental fatigue of build season definitely showed. Bydlon and Bryce took off and put on the big wheels about 6 times because they kept forgetting to do something or how something would change. For example, the wheels got put on but then they had to make a new hole for the smaller wheels. Then they put the frame pieces on backwards. Then the frame was too low so that had to fixed. We think we finally have a plan that will work which will get done tomorrow.

Ryan and Brandon worked hard on getting an arm mechanism working for pushing down the bridge. We have called them "tusks" in the past but the new mechanism looks remarkably like the minibot arm deployer from last year. It's an arm that swings down with an angle on the front to slide the bridge down. We will test it tomorrow.

Colin and Megan worked their tails off fixing programming issues. We are learning as we go and the new thing we learned today was how to program in a spike relay so we can make a motor got forward and backward. Awesome work by them. 

Jesse and Gabe worked on the mascot some more. They finally an upper body piece that seems to work. Jenna worked on sending out emails to the PMMC and arranging the Ice Fishing Tournament. She also started editing the video for student profiles on the website. Sertoma Club in Alexandria puts on an Ice Fishing Tournament every winter. This year, they asked us to sell pizzas during the tournament. We are working with Dominos on this fundraiser. We get some of the profit for selling the pizzas. It is a really good opportunity for us to make some money and to get some more community exposure.

Tomorrow will be better after a good nights sleep.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Blast From The Past

As usual after such an awesome and amazing couple of days where we accomplished SO MUCH, today was a little bit of a thinking and figuring out what to do next sort of day. That doesn't mean we did not accomplish anything, just means we were a little more sluggish and a little less focused. The big accomplishment for today was that we made an angle adjuster mechanism for the shooter. We also continued work on the mascot.

When playing the game at the competition, we want to be able to shoot from different places on the field. To facilitate this, we wanted to adjust the angle of the shooter so we could shoot lower or higher depending on where we are and our battery life and many other factors. This post is titled this way because we ended up using one of the big components from last year: a lead screw and window motor. Last year, two lead screws and two window motors powered our scissor lift. This year, they are powering our angle adjuster. Tyler, Brandon, Bydlon, and Bryce worked on this mechanism. It works great. Colin almost finished the programming for it but had to leave. This will be totally operational tomorrow.

The other big build project was that we wanted to have a sweeper in front of the gatherer. Ryan worked hard on getting it all together. Unfortunately, when we got it all wired up, it kept blowing out fuses and the surgical tubing kept getting stuck in the conveyer belt. So, we decided to keep the sweeper off.

The big electrical project was wiring up the LED's for the driver station. We have a toggle switch so the driver station can light up red or blue depending on which alliance we are assigned.  Bryce and Demian worked on this aspect. The driver station is now complete.

Steph, Jesse, and Gabe kept working on the mascot. They finished the head yesterday and have moved on to the body. Making the dimensions right is a hard task. There are no measurements in what we found online about the mascot so they are basically guessing and checking as they go. This makes work slow. They are plowing ahead though.

Tomorrow will be a better day for work. We will be more rested and more focused. We will have a full team meeting, finish the angle adjuster, and our big goal is to start working on our "tusk" idea for bringing the bridge down. Thanks for reading. Go team 3313!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pictures Are Worth A Thousand Words

So much excitement to be had today! We finished the practice hoop set up. We refined the gatherer and shooter. We made a bunch of baskets. We totally finished the mascot head. We built supports for the gatherer and electrical board. We got a story posted in the Echo Press Newspaper. Todd (Alex Tech professor) stopped by.  We finished the business plan draft. We got the camera to work. So super awesome. I'm too excited to type. I'll just post pictures instead. Click on any to see them bigger. Also remember to check out YouTube for videos from today.


We have a messy robot room...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Fasten Your Safety Belts

Sorry for the late post tonight. The three big projects for today were putting the robot parts all together, building the hoop apparatus, and continuing to make the mascot head. A couple new videos on YouTube to check out as well.

Bydlon bought more belts (thus the title) for the gatherer last night so Ryan spent most of the early part of the afternoon fixing the gatherer dowels to work with the added belts. The added surface area of the additional belts really helped catch the balls and propel them up from the ground. Then Bryce, Bydlon, and Ryan worked on attaching the shooter to the top of the gatherer. The big advancement here was that we decided to switch the shooter around so it shoots over the electrical box. Kind of a big change but it makes mounting it and getting the balls to the shooter wheel much easier. HUGE MOMENT watching the balls be picked up and shot all in one motion from the driver station. Colin and Megan worked hard on fixing the programming issues with the shooter and gatherer. Now it's refining the process including (hopefully) a lazy susan (for turning the shooter), adjusting the angle (for shooting from different distances), and attaching the camera (for vision targeting). So not much to do... Not.

Another project that Damien, Spencer, and Jordan worked on was putting all of the wood together to form the base of the hoop apparatus. This will be key for refining and fixing the shooting mechanism. All that's left is buying the hoops and attaching those to the backboards. The robot room is completely full with the hoop apparatus, the bridge, the bump plus all of our other robotics pieces. It's kind of a mess right now.

Jesse and Steph continued their diligent work on the mascot helmet. They are really close to getting done with it though. They are even at the point where they tested spray paint on different test surfaces (cardboard, duct tape, and hot glue) to see how it looks. It looks fantastic.

Other small projects included:
  • More people proofreading the Business Plan by Jenna.
  • Bringing some pieces over to Alex Tech for prototyping the sweeper in front of the gatherer. (done by Brandon and Tyler)
  • Finishing up team member interviews
Another productive day with lots of rewards. Bydlon is going to a programming class in the Cities tomorrow but will be back in time to open the shop for work. Hopefully we will have a smoother transition from the gatherer to the shooter and made some progress on a lazy susan prototype. We also want to finish the helmet (other than painting) and get the camera working. Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Three Exciting Moments

Another awesome day for Mechatronics. We got a lot accomplished. I realize I say that a lot but it is amazing how much the team accomplishes every day. It is a testament to their dedication and ingenuity. I am continually impressed. The biggest excitement today was that we picked a ball up off the ground, made some baskets with our shooter, started on the hoop apparatus, and made a ton of progress on the mascot head.

The frist big moment of the day was that Brandon, Bydlon, Bryce, and Tyler brought the shooter down to the gym and made 5 (!!!!) baskets in a row. It was a very exciting feeling to actually see the shooter accomplish the goal we set out for it. We tried shooting the ball with the wheel above (opposite of what we planned) and kept missing the hoop. Finally, someone suggested we switch it up and it worked! The whole idea of trying this came from a student in Bydlon's class 7th period. The fact that this never even crossed anyone's mind is slightly embarrassing.

The next super exciting moment was that we picked a ball up off the ground and got it to the top of the gatherer! Two weeks of hard work paid off in about 5 seconds. Super exciting! Damien and Molly brought some parts over to the Tech to get them cut for us. These parts were obstructing the path of the ball. We originally had some issues with the buttons on the drive station and the gatherer but Colin worked his butt off and fixed them. Our next goal is to fully refine the gatherer by having five belts. This will get finished tomorrow. After that, we need to add on the shooter.

The third super exciting moment was seeing the helmet of the mascot come together. Jenna and Jesse worked so hard on the mascot helmet today. The tedious nature of the project cannot be overstated. However, the end product will be well worth it. Great job by Jesse and Jenna on the project today.

Bydlon and Bryce bought and cut all of the wood for the Hoop Apparatus. This will come in helpful when we are testing our shooter on the real game hoop set up. The tests today in the gym were good for our confidence but as far as actually proving we can succeed... We need the real thing to work on. This should be completed tomorrow.

So many exciting things still coming up. We already checked off about 4 or 5 goals for the week which is amazing! More to come tomorrow.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Under Pressure

We met on Saturday to keep working for a little while. Weekends are hard days to meet beacuse so many people on the team have family obligations and jobs. However, about 10 members showed up throughout the afternoon. The main project was re-making the gatherer prototype.Then we relaxed and play Rock Band for a while.

The gatherer prototype we created last week was a great proof of concept. However, we changed the design a little bit. We are going to have only one motor powering it. Plus, our last design got a little messed up while creating it (holes in wrong places, not the right size, etc.). So we re-made it and it works great! We are soooo close to picking a ball up off the ground. Just a couple more modifications on Monday and we will be able to do it.

Jenna worked on the business plan some more. We also came up with some goals for Week 3. The big goal is to pick a ball up off the ground and shoot it into a hoop. We also need to build the hoop apparatus.

After working for a while, we ordered pizza and played Rock Band. Build season is intense so it's good to take a break and have some fun. We played a 12 song set of Queen and a bunch of Bon Jovi. We also played Bydlon's favorite songs "Workin for the Weekend" and "We Built This City".

As always, thanks for reading and be sure to check us out on Twitter @team3313, YouTube and Facebook (links up above).

Friday, January 20, 2012

Balancing Act

We finished so many projects yesterday that today was a restarting day. Some of the projects we started on were prototyping ideas for lowering the bridge, prototyping a roller for the front of the robot, making the body for the mascot, and practicing balancing.

The biggest excitement was that we got the robot driving. Colin came and did a really nice job fixing the programming for the robot. It was a very proud moment to see what we have so far driving around the shop. Bryce spent some time getting use to the new tank drive system (last year we had mecanum wheels). He balanced the robot on the bridge a few times too.

The big build projects involved scraping the gate concept. Originally, we made a gate that would hopefully stop balls from coming in to our robot and lower the bridge. We got a lot of comments on our youtube page advising us in a different direction and we saw some other ideas so we decided to scrap it. Instead, we are going to have these things we call tusks that bring the bridge down and a pvc pipe with surgical tubing acting as a sweeper pulling balls in. We are half way there on both ideas. These should be finished by Monday or Tuesday.

The PR team started working on the body of the mascot. The other big project for the PR team was making interview videos to put on a member profile page on this blog. These should be very interesting.

After an awesome day like yesterday where we finished so many things and had so much progress, inevitably there will be a little bit of a let down. The team still worked hard and started some big new projects today. We are meeting on Saturday to work some more and then hang out with some Rock Band and pizza.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Don't Worry, It's Just A Prototype

The title for this post is our team's motto so far this year. Whenever we're building anything and someone raises a concern, we jokingly say that line. Then we brainstorm ways to fix it. Today was another really awesome day for the team. So many things started and finished. So many laughs and positive energy. One of those days that makes FIRST Robotics awesome. Everybody was on their game as far as keeping busy but still having fun. Our projects included: mounting the electrical board, mounting the gatherer and shooter, finishing the bridge, starting the mascot helmet and beginning out team member profiles.

Remember to check YouTube for 4 (!!!!) new videos.

We finished the bridge!! That's two out of three game pieces completed. The only one left is the hoop aparatus. Brandon, Molly, Tyler, Connor, and some others really worked hard on getting the bridge done and it looks awesome. We put it through its paces by having some people walk and balance on it. Pretty soon (tomorrow) we will be able to drive our robot over it. We finished the other piece of the middle of the game field, the bump, on Monday. These two elements will be crucial for testing our design next week.

Another huge project for today was completely mounting the prototype robot. We finished the electrical board box by adding a bottom and a side. The box looks great already (go wire management and zip ties!!) but will look even more awesome when we make it out of lexan and put the red and blue LEDs in it. Our first step was putting the gear boxes back on the frame. Then, we mounted the electrical board and battery. Our last step was to mount the gatherer and shooter. Tyler had a great idea for mounting the gatherer and many others on the team helped out with this process. We finished by mounting the gate mechanism and testing it out. SO COOL WITH IT ALL TOGETHER! The feeling you get when a group has an idea and finally sees that idea in a real life way is impossible to describe. So proud of the team so far. This is MILES ahead of where we were last year. Still a lot to accomplish, however.

The PR team started working on the mascot. They first step is creating the helmet. Already looks pretty cool. Jesse and Bryce modeled the helmet throughout the afternoon. Hopefully, the helmet will be finished by tomorrow or Saturday. They also came up with a name for our mascot... Mechatron. PERFECT!

Megan, Jenna, and Allen came up with some questions to ask team members for youtube videos and member profiles for the blog. There are some really funny questions and the profiles should be entertaining. Check back some time in the next week or so for those.

We finished the day with a clean-up/dance party to LMFAO. Great times. 

Having a prototype together makes troubleshooting and brainstorming much easier in the coming weeks. Our big goal for tomorrow or Saturday is to drive the prototype and pick up a ball and shoot it all in one motion. This is ambitious but the team can definitely do it. Fantastic feeling leaving the robot room and seeing all the checks on our weekly goals.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Material Shortage

The team did not meet for long today (only about 3 hours) but still got some more projects started. The main reason for the shortened day was that Bydlon had a meeting and he controls the material buying power. Some projects that were worked on were the ball path prototype, electrical board, bridge, and mascot. No pictures tonight because the camera was taken home by another team member. Photos will be uploaded tomorrow.

The electrical team finished the plywood electrical board. They put all of the data cables on and put plywood sides on. The final product will be made out of lexan and will be a fully enclosed case with a hinge door on the front. It will be vertical on the back of the gatherer. The plywood prototype only has two walls but it is obvious where we are going with it.

The build team worked on putting the ball path prototype together some more. They connected the shooter to the gatherer and started putting together the gatherer belts up to the shooter. Another section of the build team worked on the bridge. However, they came to a stand still when they needed longer screws (this is where Bydlon would have come in handy). The bridge will be completed tomorrow.

The PR team finished gathering the cardboard for the mascot. They too came to a stand still without materials. This project will be started officially tomorrow.

The programming team worked on the equations needed to program the robot to shoot the ball where we want it to. This is some intense math and will take some testing so it is imperative that the build gets the shooter done soon.

Tomorrow will be a more exciting day. Hopefully, the mascot head will be started on, the bridge will be finished, and the gatherer and shooter full concept should be alllllmost done. The materials needed for these projects have already been purchased by Bydlon after his meeting.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It's Allllive!!

Another great day of work for Team 3313 Mechatronics. The team worked on a bunch of different projects including: brainstorming the connection of the gatherer and shooter, making the vertical electrical board, putting together the bridge, making the robot drive, and writing the business plan.

The biggest excitement of the day was that we FINALLY got our KitBot to drive. Hard to explain how exciting this development is. As our team tweeted, "I wonder if this is how Dr. Frankenstein felt." Getting the robot to drive was a big undertaking by the programming team (kudos to Colin and Megan) along with the electrical team (among them, Bryce, Spencer, and Jordan). Getting the robot to drive allows the programming team to test out how their code works and also leads the electrical team to fix problems like gear boxes not working or chains being too loose. One funny moment while trying to accomplish this was that we lost a key for a gear box (a very small piece of metal that allows the motor to connect to the sprocket which turns the wheel). The team walked around and dragged their feet like zombies to find it.

Vertical electrical board almost done
Once we got the robot to drive, we were able to take some of it apart. This may seem strange but some of the pieces from the KitBot need to go on our new vertical electrical board so we had to take those off once we knew they worked. Bryce and Bydlon ran power cables to all of the components on the board and all that is left for tomorrow is putting on the walls and running data cables. The layout is very compact and the team did a nice job of wire management (not a strong suit of Mechatronics in the past).

The other big project for today was putting together the bridge that we can practice on. Brandon and Tyler did an awesome job of getting started. All of the wood was cut last night but they still had to organize it and figure out where each piece fits. It should be finished tomorrow which will be a great asset to use once we have our actual robot together in a week or so.

Tyler and Brandon working on bridge
We started to think about how the shooter and gatherer will connect. We facilitated the brainstorming by shortening the shooter and gatherer so they actually fit together. We had to bring a couple parts over to Alex Tech to get shortened. Not much progress on this other than putting them on top of each other and staring at it. Still good to get started.

Lastly, Jenna kept up her work on the team Business Plan for the Entrepreneurship Award. Her perseverance on such an arduous and tedious piece is amazing.

More excitement tomorrow when we have a vertical electrical board and a bridge to stand on. Thank for reading!