Robot Summer https://robotsummer.com Just how much trouble can a father and son team get into? Thu, 14 Dec 2017 21:25:18 -0800 en-US hourly 1 Ready To Get Serious About Game Programming https://robotsummer.com/ready-to-get-serious-about-game-programming/ https://robotsummer.com/ready-to-get-serious-about-game-programming/#respond Sun, 17 Jan 2016 08:25:17 +0000 http://robotsummer.com/?p=156 So, we did a lot of talking over the Christmas break about programming. It's a big area, right? Maybe a little overwhelming. You can do so much with programming skills and apply it to so many different kinds of projects. There are a ton of resources for learning online and a ton of approaches to […]

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So, we did a lot of talking over the Christmas break about programming. It's a big area, right? Maybe a little overwhelming. You can do so much with programming skills and apply it to so many different kinds of projects. There are a ton of resources for learning online and a ton of approaches to getting started. Now, what do you think came up as a part of our discussion? Yup, GAMES! Love 'em or hate 'em, games are here to stay so we might as well use them as a learning tool as often as we can.

That's why we've signed up for a course on Udemy that is all about making games in the Unity ga“Learn To Code by Making Games – The Complete Unity Developer” and is taught by a fellow by the name of Ben Tristem. We'll share our progress throughout the course and if you are interested in joining us, you can find out more and signup for the course by clicking here.

 

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Guess Who Had Fun At Maker Faire Rocklin 2015 https://robotsummer.com/guess-who-had-fun-at-maker-faire-rocklin-2015/ https://robotsummer.com/guess-who-had-fun-at-maker-faire-rocklin-2015/#respond Mon, 12 Oct 2015 20:04:59 +0000 http://robotsummer.com/?p=115 We finally had an opportunity to attend our first Maker Faire last weekend. Maker Faire Rocklin held at Sierra College was close enough for us to make the trip. This was the first Maker Faire in the Sacramento area and it did not disappoint. As we walked into the faire, we watched a multi-person bicycle […]

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We finally had an opportunity to attend our first Maker Faire last weekend. Maker Faire Rocklin held at Sierra College was close enough for us to make the trip. This was the first Maker Faire in the Sacramento area and it did not disappoint. As we walked into the faire, we watched a multi-person bicycle that looked like a giant eagle sculpture riding around the parking lot. That was a sure sign we were in the right place.

mfrocklin2015-battlebots2 mfrocklin2015-battlebots3 mfrocklin2015-battlebots1
Our first stop was the battle bots from RoboGames. Those are some heavy duty machines! We met and talked with Matt Maxham from Team Plumb Crazy. He explained some of the redundancy built into the bots and how he practices driving them by disabling different wheel combinations so he will know how to drive it under those conditions. Can't wait for the next season. We'll be rooting for the TPCbots, of course.

Next we wandered out to the lawn to fire off a trebuchet a few times. That's right! I said a trebuchet. It was a small demonstration rig to let people try it out. There was a much bigger one launching watermelons farther down the field. Awesome!!! The group there was promoting an upcoming competition and encouraging people to make their own and join in the fun. Should we? Well…nah, we're building enough already, but maybe we'll go watch.

mfrocklin2015-bender1 mfrocklin2015-bender3 mfrocklin2015-bender2
We had our picture taken on the “red carpet” and entered a drawing for a 3D printer. Then we made Bender Bots to toss for distance. They had to hold on to their bolts when they hit the ground. Alex had the top distance for his age category for awhile.

We checked out cool projects made in the Hacker Lab at Sierra College. If only it were closer to home… We played with more cool robots that drew like a spirograph, followed lines, and avoided collisions. We saw an enormous LED cube! It was all pretty cool and inspired us with more ideas for our own projects. Thanks, Maker Faire Rocklin!

mfrocklin2015-trebuchet mfrocklin2015-hackerlab mfrocklin2015-bernoulli

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We Made Our First LED Cube! https://robotsummer.com/we-made-our-first-led-cube/ https://robotsummer.com/we-made-our-first-led-cube/#respond Sat, 26 Sep 2015 23:54:58 +0000 http://robotsummer.com/?p=140 Over the summer, we bought a bunch of project kits from our local Radio Shack because it was closing. One of these kits was a 3D LED Cube Kit and it has been our first big soldering project. Well, we thought is was pretty big. Alex managed to burn himself on the soldering iron pretty […]

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Over the summer, we bought a bunch of project kits from our local Radio Shack because it was closing. One of these kits was a 3D LED Cube Kit and it has been our first big soldering project. Well, we thought is was pretty big. Alex managed to burn himself on the soldering iron pretty early on, but we stuck with it. Lesson well learned! The whole shaft of the iron gets HOT, not just the pointy end.

The project was actually harder than we thought it would be. We followed the directions, but it was challenging to make all of the connections, especially the ones in the middle. I think we could have put it together smarter, but it was our first try. We actually have a couple more of these kits, so I'll bet we get better at it. We also didn't do any testing along the way.

Once we got it all together, three LEDs weren't lighting up at all. We checked all of the connections and re-applied some heat to the solder points. We were checking each point until we noticed we could follow the traces on the board and figure out the connections that were linked to the unlit LEDs. It took us an extra hour of tinkering and testing connections, but we managed to get the cube working right. High five for us!

This kit plugs into our Arduino Mega (works on an Uno, too!) and we had a little trouble finding the program code (known as a sketch) that Radio Shack was supposed to provide. It was no longer available via their website. Luckily, there are lots of folks on the web like us and we managed to find someone who had shared the code online. We uploaded the sketch to our Arduino and the cube started blinking away! We spent more time playing around with the code to learn how the patterns are programmed and made a couple patterns of our own, too.Alex is finally starting to show some interest in the programming side of things. That makes this dad very happy…

We saw a really huge LED cube at our local Maker Faire a few weeks ago. It was kind of amazing and cool. They used RGB LEDs so it could make multi-colored patterns. I think we'd like to try doing a bigger version with RGB LEDs, but maybe not that big! An 8x8x8 cube is probably big enough.

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Exploring Circuits With Minecraft https://robotsummer.com/exploring-circuits-with-minecraft/ https://robotsummer.com/exploring-circuits-with-minecraft/#respond Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:08:32 +0000 http://robotsummer.com/?p=91 Do you know any builders who play Minecraft? Mine do. A lot… Honestly, one of the reasons we're spending the summer vacation building things is to get them doing more than just screen time. But that doesn't mean I have no appreciation for the cube-oriented game. In fact, I thought we could get our summer […]

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Do you know any builders who play Minecraft? Mine do. A lot… Honestly, one of the reasons we're spending the summer vacation building things is to get them doing more than just screen time. But that doesn't mean I have no appreciation for the cube-oriented game. In fact, I thought we could get our summer started off by trying to bridge their knowledge of Minecraft with some elementary circuitry.

Alex said:
I know that Minecraft is very popular and that sometimes people can get a little addicted to games, but it’s not bad to get away from all of the servers and mini games and get back to single player or working with friends to make something, working with redstone to try and figure out how it works and reacts.

We bought our 10 year old daughter an electronics learning lab kit (like this picture with link) that came with a couple of really good project books. I thought I'd challenge my Minecraft experts to duplicate the circuitry projects in the game as they built each on the electronics learning kit. The kit starts out with easy switch circuits, so they began by making the circuits on the first couple of pages on the electronics kit and then making their equivalent in Minecraft. I left the room to give them a chance to work through it on their own.  They took their own pictures and screenshots  and here's how they did.

p20-1-kit

The first circuit was simple enough. Turn on a buzzer with the power switch.

p20-1-mc

That was easy enough. We used a redstone lamp in Minecraft to act as an LED instead of a buzzer, but it's the same wiring.

The next few circuits were just simple variations on the same thing. Turn on the circuit with a button instead of a switch. Turn on the circuit with two switches in series, or with a switch and a button in series. Nothing terribly difficult. But, then they got to one that asked them to light up alternating pairs of LEDs with a DPDT switch. That got more interesting! I came back and they had succeeded at the task, but it looked a little overcomplicated.

Here's what the circuit looked like on the electronics kit. The wires look a little disorganized, but it does the job.

Here's what the circuit looked like on the electronics kit. The wires look a little disorganized, but it does the job.

p21-7-mc-1

And here is the minecraft circuit they came up with to do the same thing. You can flip a switch to make the circuit turn off the two lit blocks and turn on the other two.

So, I sat down with the kids and we spent some time working on the DPDT switch circuit to see if we could make it prettier. It turns out we could and we came up with a few different ways to accomplish the same thing. That was a good lesson for them to learn. There will always be more than one way to solve a circuit problem, and it might take some time to work through alternatives and optimize it. Here are a few variations we came up with. Let us know if you can come up with something smaller. Our best one is pictured last.

This one is small, but the circuit is always ON. you can't turn off all the lights with a main power switch. So we kept trying.

This one is small, but the circuit is always ON. you can't turn off all the lights with a main power switch. So we kept trying.

The switch in front is the main power switch. The one on the stone block is is the DPDT switch.

The switch in front is the main power switch. The one on the stone block is is the DPDT switch.

Our best attempt.!

Our best attempt.!

Afterwards, I asked Alex to tell me the similarities and differences between electronics circuits and Minecraft circuits and this is what he came up with:

Things that are the same.

  • They both require a power source and something to power.
  • They both have a path for the power to follow. It’s wires in circuitry and redstone in Minecraft.

Things that are different.

  • Electricity needs to loop back or be grounded. Redstone doesn’t.
  • Redstone is not shielded like wires and can get really complicated to prevent redstone from touching where it shouldn’t.
  • Minecraft doesn’t have different voltages. Everything takes the same voltage.

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Need to understand those cool circuit diagrams? https://robotsummer.com/need-understand-cool-circuit-diagrams/ https://robotsummer.com/need-understand-cool-circuit-diagrams/#respond Wed, 09 Jul 2014 20:00:56 +0000 http://robotsummer.com/?p=65 Taking a look at the next robot we want to tackle brought up a nice learning opportunity. The project we decided to build has a nice circuit diagram to explain how it all goes together. Not surprisingly, this didn't mean much to Alex. So, I explained how the diagram can be used to flatten out […]

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Taking a look at the next robot we want to tackle brought up a nice learning opportunity. The project we decided to build has a nice circuit diagram to explain how it all goes together. Not surprisingly, this didn't mean much to Alex. So, I explained how the diagram can be used to flatten out the design and show how current flows through the circuit. This can make it easier to see where you might have a problem or could make an improvement. It also helps others look at the design and understand it easier.

I spent a little while checking out other online resources for understanding circuit diagrams that I could share with Alex, but I couldn't decide which to use. I found great stuff, but they were more advanced than I thought he needed just yet and not too fun for a youthful read. So, I took some inspiration from “How to Read a Schematic” on sparkfun.com and a couple of other glossary pages like this one to make up some circuit diagram flashcards.

Each card has a symbol on it and the reverse has the name of that component. They're still pretty basic and can be improved greatly by adding more information about the component and what it does. This set includes the components we'll be using in one of our upcoming projects and we can add more as our projects use more and different things. The idea is to give Alex a look at these components early and then present them to him in the project diagram. He'll be better equipped to identify them and ready to take the next step of learning how they work together to pass that cool little current around and around to make a robot do something awesome.

I was pleased to see him sit down with his younger sister and have fun going through them as they both memorized the cards and quizzed each other. Yes!

Take a look at one other resource I found at The Physics Classroom on Current Electricity that covers current and electronics, too. It walks you through it progressively with little quizzes at the bottom of each page. Good stuff!

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The first project, our take on the bristlebot https://robotsummer.com/the-first-project/ https://robotsummer.com/the-first-project/#comments Tue, 24 Jun 2014 17:54:14 +0000 http://robotsummer.com/?p=41 So, the first thing we decided to try was a simple project to make bristlebots from toothbrush heads like this from EvilMadScientist.com.  It's simple, doesn't require a bunch of materials, and is pretty quick to do. It got a little more complicated than that, but not too much, really. Instead of using a toothbrush head […]

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So, the first thing we decided to try was a simple project to make bristlebots from toothbrush heads like this from EvilMadScientist.com.  It's simple, doesn't require a bunch of materials, and is pretty quick to do. It got a little more complicated than that, but not too much, really.

Instead of using a toothbrush head we decided to experiment with popsicle sticks and toothpicks to make the bodies and legs. This allowed us to have a lot of fun building several different body and leg designs. Some were better than others. Besides. we could only find one spare toothbrush in the house and had a whole bunch of the other stuff. The other thing we decided to do was make the motor piece separate so we could reuse it. We mounted the motor, battery, and switch onto a small piece of balsa wood and attached it to the body with a small screw. It worked fine for us, but two screws might have been better.

I liked being able to make my own robot body in any shape I wanted and use the motor over and over. – Alex

Our steps:

Make the motor sled

  • Cut a piece of balsa wood wide enough to support the vibration motor, battery, and switch. Leave a little extra room so the wires are easier to work with and leave space for a screw or two to hold the sled to the body.
  • Fix the vibration motor to one end of the balsa wood. We wrapped scotch tape twice around the motor and balsa wood. You may need to hang the end of the motor off the end of the balsa to keep it from hitting wood when it spins.
  • Attach one of the motor wires to the closest battery post. We soldered all of the wiring attachments.
  • Attach the other motor wire to the switch.
  • Connect the other battery post to the switch with a spare piece of wire. We used a slide switch that was DPDT (double pole, double throw), but yours may be different so check to see how it needs to be connected to your two wires.
  • Test to see that it turns on and off. Got it? Good!
  • Fix the battery and switch to the balsa wood. We just poked the posts of the battery holder into the balsa and hot glued the switch.
  • Drill a small hole or two for screwing the sled to the body.

Make a body:

  • This part is easy and fun. You probably don't really need any instructions for it.
  • Use a hot glue gun to make a small platform out of popsicle sticks that is big enough to attach the motor sled. We made ours different shapes and sizes depending on how we wanted the legs to look.
  • Drill a small hole or two in the popsicle sticks where you want to attach the motor sled.
  • Glue your toothpick legs (or skewers, or appetizer forks, or whatever) to the platform body in some creative way. You can try and make the legs all perfectly aligned and the exact same height, but don't worry if they aren't. It will still move. Try different things to see what happens!
  • Attach your motor sled to the body when the glue is dry and turn it on!

This was a good project to start learning how to use the soldering gun. You could twist the wires, too, but we figured it was a skill we may need later down the line. The hot glue gun was good practice for soldering, as well, and it was more forgiving than the solder. We had a ton of fun doing this and actually spent time over several days making more and more bodies just for fun.

I think that this was a good summertime activity for everyone. But remember that hot glue is HOT! I got some on my finger and it did hurt a lot. Try to make the legs even on each side as much as possible or else your bot might move slow and wobble a lot. – Alex

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Full of ideas. Where to begin? https://robotsummer.com/full-ideas-begin/ https://robotsummer.com/full-ideas-begin/#respond Wed, 11 Jun 2014 06:34:45 +0000 http://robotsummer.com/?p=31 We've got the best of intentions to learn new things and have a blast making stuff. So, where do we begin? We want to build amazingly cool robots that do wicked awesome stuff, but that's just not realistic. He's eleven years old and, even though I am a capable programmer, I work in marketing. We […]

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We've got the best of intentions to learn new things and have a blast making stuff. So, where do we begin? We want to build amazingly cool robots that do wicked awesome stuff, but that's just not realistic. He's eleven years old and, even though I am a capable programmer, I work in marketing. We need to start small and work our way up to amazing.

I came across a very easy robot drawing tutorial for kids at Art for Kids! So, I asked the kids to draw up some ideas of what robots were and what they might be made to do. They dreamed up robotic claws, trash collectors, flying bots, and more. The ideas were great, but not entry level projects.  I suppose we could find something as a kit that we could assemble, but I'm hoping we can gradually learn about individual components as we build rather than use a kit that uses them all. We might easily end up following assembly instructions blindly and get to a finished project without knowing how it works. Boring!

We went to our local public library to see if they had any books that might get us going.  There were a couple that were a bit outdated but still interesting enough. For myself, I checked out “The Robot Builder's Bonanza: 99 Inexpensive Robotics Projects” by Gordon McComb. Alex went old-school on me and got Robots, circa 1982 by Hilary Henson. It gives a history of robotics beginning with early automatons which fascinated him right away.

So, I've got a few ideas to get us going, but the road is wide open after that. Any suggestions?

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What kind of summer are you having? https://robotsummer.com/kind-summer/ https://robotsummer.com/kind-summer/#respond Mon, 09 Jun 2014 07:14:07 +0000 http://robotsummer.com/?p=13 Have you got kids home for summer vacation right about now? I know I do and they would likely be satisfied spending the next couple of months sprawled around the family room with television and tablets to occupy their eyeballs. But that wouldn't be good parenting, now would it? What do responsible parents do? Maybe […]

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Have you got kids home for summer vacation right about now? I know I do and they would likely be satisfied spending the next couple of months sprawled around the family room with television and tablets to occupy their eyeballs. But that wouldn't be good parenting, now would it? What do responsible parents do? Maybe I don't entirely know, but let's do something a little different this summer.

Alex likes to build things. He has grown through the various building toys most boys seem to these days. He had a sizable collection of wooden trains and tracks that often filled his bedroom floor. He inherited even more Lego bricks than that. His desk is covered with various odd erector sets and carpentry kits. He even comes home from school with little contraptions built from the random things he finds on the school playground, a string, a paperclip, a pen cap, whatever! Oh, and how could I forget the modern bane of many parents, Minecraft! Yes, Alex likes to build things.

I think that's totally cool!

Alex and I are a lot alike. But we have our differences, too. I've spent the last couple of years giving him an occasional nudge toward computer programming, something which I enjoy very much, but it's just not his thing. Recently, he even said as much to me when I asked what he was going to do with all of his free time this summer.. I swear I didn't get moody and sad for even a second. Instead, I listened as he told me about wanting to build things, of course, build robots and rockets and . . .

Well, it all sounded pretty good to me. In the spirit of being the best parent I can be I promised him, and myself, that we'd do exactly that. We're calling it Robot Summer. Sounds fun enough, right? Starting small and working our way up to larger projects as we go, I plan to encourage my son to stretch his creativity and imagination, teach him about various electronic and mechanical components, show him how to design, manufacture, and assemble various projects, maybe even get him to suffer through a wee bit of programming, and make robots!

He is excited. Very excited. Me, too!

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