STEAM Club Challenges

For the third meeting of the STEAM club we brought in some prepared challenges.  Most of the kids are getting very comfortable building with the Mindstorm components and several have really taken off with the programming.  You can program the brain directly in a limited fashion, you can control it with the remote control which requires no real skills but lets you power the different motors forward and backward, or you can use the programming software which is downloadable from the Lego Mindstorm site.  It is a drag and drop style programming for the most part but there is room for more advanced programming if you are interested in that.  The software is made by National Instruments and is a lead in to their Lab View software which is used often by engineers at the university level as well as professionally in many fields.

We brought in three open topped cubes which each had a shelf attached, small wooden blocks with a string loop, and teeter-tottering ramps.

The quest was for each robot to be able to pick up the block, navigate around the cube, and place the block on the shelf.  Afterward they could try to go up the ramp, stop balanced in middle, then go down the other side in a controlled fashion.

We thought to ban remote control use for this challenge so that those shying away from the programming would have to work with it in a more intimate manner. The kids made the case that using the remote was a great way to test proof of concept on the build and then they could proceed with the programming.  We conceded that made sense and agreed to those terms.  

The flexible quality of the loop on the block turned out to be a difficulty an they really had to work on being able to make subtle movements to not over shoot the target.  Eventually one team found great success with this, only to find that the height of the shelf seemed about 1cm too high for their lifting device to work with, but after much back and forthing and getting stuck and unstuck they finally managed to park the block on the shelf.  A spontaneous cheer went up from the viewers and team alike (or maybe just from me, I was on pins and needles!).  We realized there wouldn't be time to complete the programming aspect this week though they got a good start and we agreed they could leave these robots assembled for next week to continue working.

Our ramps proved too steep for most of the robots to be able to climb in their current configurations and the end result was as usual them making their robots fight.