December 11, 2014

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto.

In grad school, while researching intelligent agents / bots, I learned that the word "robot" stems from a Czech word meaning "forced labour" or "work".
I think that I spent most of grad school in a robo-like stupor.

When an opportunity arose for Nathaniel to join a robotics program - The First Lego League - I was so excited that I began to dance the robot, natch:

here's a glimpse of my magical moves
It's hard being this cool.

DNC - Does Not Compute - is a five strong team that has been meeting on Friday afternoons since mid-September.  They've been building and programming a robot that looks just like this:

image from:
Just joshin'.

That's Elektro, the world's first "modern" robot.  He was exhibited at the 1940 World's Fair with his sidekick Sparky.  Elektro walked, spoke in the neighbourhood of 700 words (using a 78-rpm record player), smoked, and blew up balloons - all essential tasks for a 20th century robot.  You can watch  original footage of Elektro on Youtube if you'd like to learn more.

Here are Molly and Nathaniel with Baymax, the team's Lego Mindstorm robot:

The kids have spent months honing Baymax's capabilities.

For those of you who like to read cut and pasted Lego League jargon, here's a description of the First Lego League program:

"... the children do the work; [they] program an autonomous robot (using a LEGO® MINDSTORMS® robot) to score points on a thematic playing surface, create innovative solutions to a problem, all while being guided by the FLL Core Values. These three elements - the Robot Game, Project, and FLL Core Values - make up what we call our yearly Challenge.  Teams also fundraise, create a team identity, and talk to experts in the field."

FLL's mission is to "inspire young people to pursue studies and careers in the fields of science, technology and engineering... our vision is of a world which celebrates success in these fields, and in which young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes... "

Awww.  It warms the heart.   

Speaking of heroes, the kids' coaches built a regulation size competition table in their basement so that DNC could practice with Baymax on an identical surface.  

Each team has two-and-a-half minutes to navigate their robot through as many challenges as possible.

There was definitely a festive and electric air at the competition.  This shot of Maya and Brock makes me laugh because Ed Holder (Minister of State - Science and Technology) is about to photobomb them:

Sidenote:  Ed Holder is surprisingly funny.  In his speech, he made two (bad) puns (are there any other kind?)  One is too painful to repeat, but I like "Canada kicks Bot!"

I snapped lots of pics of DNC's competition:


Lego My Lego came in first place and are on their way to the provincials
I was impressed by everyone's team spirit, and also by the Lego soap dispenser in the washroom :-)

In between matches, the kids visited with representatives from Mad Science, Western Engineering and Science Camps, and unLondon (which focuses on the intersection of art, media, digital, technology and maker culture to enable unconventional ideas and innovative solutions).

The UnLondon booth was my favourite because of their fun robot toys.  We were all obsessed with the Sphero (a glowing ball that you use your smartphone or tablet to control):

Nathaniel and I liked chasing it around the room, and maneuvering it between people's legs (the maturity of the 45 year old woman is equivalent to that of the 11 year old boy).

There was also a large selection of objects made by a 3-d printer.  My favourite was this purple foot:

A 3-d printer / industrial robot is a truly amazing thing.  I am not sure if you can see the texture up close in this pic, but that foot is made up of thousands and thousands of layers, each one with a "typical layer thickness of around 100 ┬Ám (250 DPI)" - whatever the hell that means.  Let's just say that each layer is super-duper-thin.

The fellow manning the booth told me that the Chinese had recently 3D printed two concrete houses.  You know what, I keep meaning to look that up, but I haven't yet so let's see if I can find a picture.

Wow! Check this out:

images from:
The process can build 10 eco-friendly concrete houses in just one day.  That is unbelievable!  Now there's a practical application that I like.

We also enjoyed seeing the robots that local high school students built:

These bots have corporate sponsors, flashy lights and speed.

Here's "The Hat" tossing a ball to a childbot :-)


Now back to the Lego bots.

After their first two bouts of competition, DNC were not in or anywhere near the lead.  Here's Coach Mark giving them a pep talk:

they look dejected
After the final few bouts, things turned around:

And DNC took third place in the robot challenge, with judging for the remainder of the challenges to come.

At the awards presentation, all the participants got up on stage to do the Cha Cha Slide with Ed Holder.  Hilarious.

sweaty, stinky dance kids
We were amazed when this team of (practically all male) judges, awarded the kids...

women are still so underrepresented in Science and Engineering, as evidenced by the lone female judge on the far right
first place for robot design! ---

And second place overall!

Preparations are on for the provincials in Waterloo on February 7th!

Musical pairing is Mr. Roboto by Styx, natch.

And here are videos of the competition, if you would like to watch the kids in action: