I was wondering what other team’s experiences have been with outreach robots. We on 2910 started one, named OB-1 (Don’t judge us, we’re in FRC, of course we’re nerds). OB-1’s chassis and Drivetrain were assembled and one manipulator built (we originally planned on having a basketball shooter for playing with kids, and a T-shirt cannon for school events, which would be interchangeable modules) but it was never fully assembled, and had no cosmetic work done other than a single painted poly carbonate side panel. It is now destined for disassembly. It ended up being a great learning experience for new members (work continued until just before winter break at the end of 2016), but that’s about it. Its electrical system was a nightmare from start to finish and it was just plain ugly, comprising of a C-Channel frame and a cantilevered chain drive.
I suppose my real question is this: have other teams made dedicated Outreach Robots? If so did they turn out well? What lessons did you learn from them, and would you consider them a success?
I’ve recently begun CADD work on OB-2 which will be far superior in both looks and mechanical design, as a final project as a student on my team before I start mentoring next year. I intend to make it a learning experience to teach us new skills for next year too.
We made a “suitcase bot” that we carried on the plane with us to China back in 2013. It worked very well to demonstrate the basics of FRC robots. (It also worked great to wake up the class that was getting sleepy from all the lectures.)
We used back in our shop for a couple years until eventually the electronics got removed.
Yes! our team made a t-shirt cannon, basically to make it look as flashy as possible and basically show off what you can do at FRC. It has worked well, we use it a lot for outreach and to increase interest. I have a ton more pictures than this one, if anyone is interested I can post more.
We also have a T-shirt cannon we use primarily for recruiting and demos. We wind up rebuilding it to some extent almost every year as a learning exercise, and/or to fit the mood and style of the current team. You can do one of these for no more than $1000, using a basic “long” FRC chassis frame (we have an AM 31" nanotube frame at the base), a scuba tank and regulator, some galvanized pipe and fittings, a couple of air-capable 3/4" or 1" solenoid valves, four motor controllers, and an inexpensive control system like AM’s cheap and dirty or arduino based controller. The most important thing for long range shooting seems to be having at least 3/4" of airway from a large low-pressure accumulator tank** to the shooting barrel.
We have also talked about (but not acted on) a “robot petting zoo” for outreach consisting of things like a roomba, some fluffy animated toys, and robotic toys with flashing lights and such.
If you do one, don’t bother with elevating the barrels - just do a fixed 45-55 degrees or so above horizontal and adjust the time the solenoid valve is open to select range. For level ground, performance is approximately symmetric around 45 degrees altitude, but shooting a few degrees above 45 is better if you will be shooting things up into bleachers.
** We use a cast iron tank with about 1-1/2" output, roughly the same volume as a scuba tank that was donated. If you’re buying everything, a 3 foot segment of large diameter galvanized pipe should do the trick.
Our team created a “Tiretrain” to take to outreach events. It’s one of our earlier outreach bots and essentially, it was a drive system with tires attached that kids could sit in. At community events, our team members would drive it around, and while it was a fun little offseason project for us, we got a pretty enthusiastic response. We also made a t-shirt cannon that we’ve taken to school rallies and college football games. People loved it, and we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback.
One my favorites that I’ve seen a few teams do is a baseball pitching robot. It’s a relatively simple and safe design (no need for pneumatics) and can be used both for the first pitch at a giant professional baseball game or just to throw balls at a school spirit rally.
I particularly think 1538, The Holy Cows, did a good job with theirs.
I’ll let the others focus on the outreach robot other than to say I’ve found different controllers tend to grab attention well. The team I mentor uses a dance dance revolution mat to let others control their typical robot. At that point, the robot isn’t the flashy part, it’s the way it’s controlled. Other teams have used things like guitar hero controllers. It’s a similar idea.
I did want to chime in on the quoted sentence. Be careful with this. It’s something I struggle with as a mentor now. I really like seeing the kids come back and give to the next generation. At the same time, I remember how much of a time commitment school was and know juggling being a mentor on top of that can be a bit much. It’s outstanding you want to continue to give back, especially if it helps maintain the culture your team already has. But, set some pretty hard limits to ensure school is always first. The robots will be there later.
In the 2015-2016 off season, we started a “showbot” that gave our new members opportunities to try fabricating, design, etc. Unfortunately, in July we were forced to move buildspaces. Ultimately we would end up in a much bigger, much better space, but there were a few months where we had no actual build space, and this project was one of the few to get trashed. As of late we have used our 2014 bot for demonstrations, and we probably can’t top it anyways.
We did something a little different for outreach. A couple years ago we developed these small bots we called argobot to teach LabVIEW. They run full FRC LabVIEW and allows us to have 2 students for every robot which really helped for teaching programming. This worked out great however the biggest benefit from these robots has been out reach. Since they are small they are much less intimidating for kids to drive then the full size frc bots and we can drive them in really small spaces. We also developed some fun games with them for kids to play
Our community team partners with the local public library for meeting space in the off season. We have a really great relationship with them. We periodically run robotics workshops for teenagers as a way to promote STEM education and draw them to the library. (Did you know modern libraries are way more than books? Ours has 3D printers and laser engravers!)
We’ve built a curriculum around Raspberry Pi’s and small robot platforms you can buy inexpensively from online suppliers:
(just add generic L298 motor controller and sensors)
We have an army of these, and students learn to program them in Python on the Raspberry Pi.
We have plans to do an Arduino version and also to create classroom curriculum so we can take this into schools.
When possible, we end one of these workshops with a demo of our “big” robot and introduce the students to FRC.
We are going to keep our '17 robot around as a “showbot”. It is fairly impressive when it delivers the gear in auto and lines up for auto high goal shooting. Especially when we don’t bring our target with so spectators can’t see how seldom it hits! Sponsors, School Board, Children’s Museum, etc.
But more to the post. Our team (just finished year two) grew out of a middle school program. Basic robotics every fall and an advanced class every other year. Its an after school program but enough to cover a fair bit of ground.
Now with a pool of spares and such I am going to make the advanced class every spring and make it blatantly FIRST oriented. We’ll dismantle the previous year’s test bot, clean it up and have the younger kids rebuild it. Then whatever manipulators/gadgets they want to add can go on top.
FIRST electronics are a bit fussy for this format but older Victor controllers run through a Vex microprocessor are quite sufficient.
Then of course we invite the brighter alumni to come aboard when they hit High School. Helps to have current FRC students work the class with me too.
You could make it a game for spectators - here, grab this large bin and see how many of the balls you can catch!
At Ontario District Champs there was a really nice practice field provided by team 1241. I walked by to see a bunch of spectators standing just outside the field perimeter, right behind their team-made boiler element. I stopped to watch with them. Team 5406 was about to try their autonomous mode. We watched as their robot shot off the line, moved forward, turned toward the boiler, and aimed. Right toward me and the unsuspecting spectators…
I had just enough time to say “Watch out!” before we were all showered with wiffle balls!
Thanks for the Warning. I’ve been a running start student for 2 years now and I plan on finishing my associates at the local community college before moving on to getting a bachelors. This means my schedule won’t be much different from how it is now. I always put school first, but I appreciate the concern.
Team 1726 is currently starting design and prototyping for a “party bot” to be used for events and outreach but our school has safety concerns over the use of air cannons. We decided to try out a multi-use pneumatic catapult that can launch all sorts of lightweight swag. We definitely think that making a bot that isn’t specifically designed to do FRC which can be uninteresting to uninitiated kids is a great way to bring interest towards joining or endorsing a FRC team or even FLL or VEX.
One concern with outreach bots is the functionality. Is just tossing things enough? Should it do other things?
Those are some of my concerns with an outreach bot, I think having one is a wonderful idea though.