This week was a week filled, once again, with little work on Grazer. Instead, I was at the National First Robotics Championship in St. Louis, and returned with a lot of inspiration.
Going to regional championships is pretty cool for robotics. You get to see maybe 30 or 40 other robots, most of which do a task in a very similar way to the way you designed our robot, maybe with a few exceptions, to varying degrees of success. Innovation is abundant, including some features on our own robot, but there are no markedly different ideas. However, once you reach the national level, surrounded by 600+ teams from around the world, only then do you truly start to see innovation. Due to the nature of this years competition (link to the game rules: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6UYFKNGHJ8), there was much much more room to do things in different ways, prioritize certain functions over others, or sacrifice ability in one aspect to speed up a crucial element, all within certain weight and size constraints. I wondered at the teams who completed the challenge in unforeseen ways, with crazy, seemingly impossible specialized design challenges, all while integrating mechanisms that can complete a task without fail, over and over again (mostly stacking totes inside the robot, before pushing them out onto a scoring platform).
Here are a couple of robots that I thought were simply amazing:
Team 2826 Wave Robotics: Equipped with an amazing autonomous mode that can pick up all game pieces in the first 15 seconds.
Team 118 The Robonauts: Nasa’s team, as serious as a rocket ship.
Team 148 The Robowranglers: Split the work up into two robots, Batman and Robin, connected by a tether.
These are all beautiful robots, if there is such a thing, crafted with every detail taken into account, every surfaced polished and honed, all created with state of the art fabrication techniques. In all reality, most of the design and engineering work of the above teams was done by dedicated or even paid mentors (especially the Robonauts). But one team I talked to, team 987, the High Rollers from Las Vegas had this one kid on there team that spent the entire season CNCing most of the robot. His work was truly inspiring, and opened my eyes a bit more to the power and accessibility of milling technology.
The competition didn’t just have robots. It also featured an innovation fair that had booths for most of the Championship sponsors:
I left this competition feeling excited to start building the next robot, as well as Grazer. As a result of this, I began work on analyzing the range of motion for the Grazer joints, optimizing them for ease in manufacturing, by implementing in-program component animation and motion study. Hopefully milling will continue this week.