Friday, May 30, 2008

Home School's Science Fair: Alex's Tank-Bot

Yesterday was a full one, and we did make it to the science fair. It was the home school science fair, for students enrolled in homeschooling in our county. The woman who coordinates these events, seminars, classes and activities is wonderful. She is one of those dear people that extends herself and with sincere warmth and kindness she makes everyone feel special. I might ask for her number, so I can call her over summer and get good advice, affirmations and encouragement... for the children... of course, for the children.

Alex has been reading "Robot Builder's Bonanza," a technical and, for him, inspiring book all about designing and constructing robots. Not light reading. My favorite part about this book may be the suggestions to visit thrift shops and look for parts that can be rescued and salvaged for making robots. No need to flog the wallet on specialty kits and fancy sets. Alex decided to give robot thrifting a go and we headed to our favorite thrift store for supplies.

Here are some excerpts from Alex's report and presentation:

My objective was to make a robot from found parts and broken toys. I wanted to see if I could find a remote controlled device that was not working, repair it and possibly make it better than it was before. I hoped to make the toy operational again and was interested to see whether I could give it more power, greater range of motion and to add an arm to it.

I went to the thrift store and searched in the toy section, the home appliances section, and the electronics section. I was looking for remote controlled toys that were broken, that also looked salvageable. I found a 6-volt Radio Shack replica tank that had been discarded. It was missing a custom manufactured rechargeable battery pack, and its charger. In the other departments I did not find anything to help my experiment.

Process and Results:
The first thing I did to make repairs to the tank was to find a new battery pack. I bought 2 battery packs, to hold a total of 8 AA batteries. To prevent the total voltage from exceeding 6 volts, I had to parallel wire them. “Parallel wiring” is when you attach 2 positive wires, of the same color (usually red,) to a load. The “load” is whatever you are powering. I also had to attach 2 negative wires, of the same color (usually black) to the load. It is important for it to not exceed 6 volts to prevent the motors overheating. If the motors overheat they can melt the protective coating of the wires, and short circuit the motor; this can start a fire.

The antenna was glued to the turret and I had to pull it out. I measured the black wire that served as an antenna and cut a new antenna of equal length. I soldered the new piece to the section that had been cut. Instead of reattaching it to the turret, I raised it above the chassis by slipping it through 2 soda straws that were taped together. The new antenna stood vertical out of the center of the vehicle.

With the improved antenna, and the new battery pack, I am able to control the robot vehicle from over 100’ feet away. The vehicle’s base and drive system is extremely powerful and can carry 3 pounds, and possibly 4.

Next I decided to build a remote controlled arm to add to the vehicle. Inspired by suggestions from the book “Robot Builder’s Bonanza” by Gordon Mc Comb and Myke Predko, I designed a cable-operated grabber. It works by winding a string around a part of the gearbox that was intended to rotate the turret of the tank. Modified like this, the gearbox now opens and closes 2 arms or “fingers” that extend from the front of the vehicle. I built the arms from pre-cut steel brackets, 2 rubber bands, tooth-lock washers, and locking nuts, and I added a second antenna to link with the controller for the new arm. The arm needed a separate power supply, so I equipped it with its own 6-volt battery pack.

I hoped to build a robot from broken toys and electronic parts, to make it better and equip it with an arm. I wanted it to have greater remote range, be more powerful, and I wanted it to have additional features. The tank I found was not functional, but I was able to repair it. By adapting the antenna I increased its range, so I can control it from greater distances. The arm I designed and built allows me to retrieve objects, so that the robot can manipulate its environment.

I learned how to solder wire using a hand held electric soldering gun. I learned how to use a digital multi-meter; it tests voltage, it tests to see if circuits are complete, resistance and amperage. I practiced patience and diligence, reading the “Robot Builder’s Bonanza” for guidance, and I was able to successfully achieve my goals. In the future I hope to attach a video transmitter, so I can see the vehicle’s path from a remote location.

My heart swells.
Pardon me for a moment while I breath deeply and reflect on the joy I have thinking of my children. William helped carry in Alex's equipment. Max was on hand to keep an eye on everything. Maria took a nap, and was very cooperative and helpful when she woke. Alex was reluctant to enter the science fair, because of uncertainty, shyness and such, but William encouraged him, pushed him... I'm just trying to express how happy it makes me that these children look out for each other, they offer support and concern and they make me very proud. I cannot think of a better indication of success than having children that are creative, nice, inquisitive and a pleasure to be with.

This Morning:

Max: The dishes in the dishwasher look dirty. Can I use a fancy plate?

Me: Sure.

Max: I didn't know we could use these plates.

Me: You can only use them today and never again.

Max: Oh.

Me: Just yolking.

Max: Yolking?

Me: Joking. Yolking. Egg yolk.

Max: Why do people assume everything can be funny? Some things are just weird.

Last Night, Driving Home From Mom's Night Out:

Maria: I love dat pardee. And all the ladies are so booful.

Me: I loved the party too. Maria, you were a lady too, so good.

Maria: No. I'm not a lady. I'm jus' M'ia. And what dos ladies called?

Me: Linda.

Maria: Oh, yes, Leenda.

Me: Anne.

Maria: Anne. I like Anne. She's booful.

Me: Vera

Maria: Veela

Me: Jola

Maria: JoLA

Me: Janice

Maria: Janice

Me: Yanina

Maria: Fun-sheena

Me: Belinda

Maria: Buhlinda

Me: Josie

Maria: Joseee

Me: And Gigi

Maria: And Gigi, and the chockie fountain. And it was a pardee, and Lucas showed me the chockie fountain. I like Lucas. So fun.


Lesley said...

Oh that's all just wonderful! What a clever guy Alex is, and what a team these sibs are — you have every right to be swelling in pride; I'd be in floods of tears!

village mama said...

I'm going to copycat Lesley, it is 'all just wonderful'! Amazing family you are, amazing mom. 'All wonderful'! XO

Jennifer said...

We would like Alex to know how absolutely, positively impressed, amazed, delighted, and educated we were by his project. Alex, you have the stuff of greatness in you. And William and Max and Maria do, too. This is an amazing family, and we have to keep a close eye because amazing things are going to continue to be done. And shared. Congratulations one, and all.

amy smith said...

and i meant obviously, sorry.

amy smith said...

seriously. alex, you are amazing. and really, william, what an incredible example and big brother. and well, maria, stunning, AND a lady. obviould they have rediculously good genes. :)

judy in ky said...

Alex and his robot... wonderful! I enjoyed watching it work. Very impressive... you must be so proud.
And Maria.. what poise in such a young one. It's a joy to see your family.

Anna Banana said...

Maria is booful too! Congrats to Alex, especially for building from found materials -so green! You should take your kids to Encinitas Environment Day in Cottonwood Creek park on June 8 in the morning and then to my concert in the afternoon. Wear them out, but don't wear yourself out! Good luck tomorrow...

nikkipolani said...

I'm so impressed with Alex's work. He was thorough and creative and inventive ...and wonderful! Congratulations to Alex!

Tarie said...

My heart is swelling too! Your children are so smart and so beautiful - and they are GOOD kids. You and Geoff are doing a terrific job raising them!

Please tell Alex that I think he is amazing!!!

Julie said...

I've come to believe that your Alex and my Colin were separated at birth. This is exactly the kind of things he does -- for fun!