OC Wows Old Hammondtown with Robotics

“This is going to be great. The kids are really excited,” said Lisa Lourenco, Mattapoisett Schools’ technology teacher, accurately predicting what would happen in her Tech Education classroom once the robotics delegation arrived from Old Colony Vocational Technical High School.

The visit began that morning with an introduction by sophomore Austin DeSousa, who explained the OC team’s projects and how their creations could now be seen, in motion, in a series of demonstration stations set up by his classmates. Students of the Vex team, which is advised by OC Electronic Engineering Technologies Educator Daniel Brush, led the presentation.

“I used to give the introduction,” Brush said. “Now, I have students like Austin who can explain the work they’ve been doing and it’s even more effective because it’s coming from a student.”

Once the LEGO robots were unpacked, there was plenty of interest among the sixth-graders. The OC team of sophomores (two girls and five boys) moved easily through the throng, answering questions, handing over controllers, and helping the class understand that robots don’t always function exactly the way they’re designed to, but that’s something they tackle with every project as part of the building process.

Amid the sound of small motors and much excitement, each LEGO machine was introduced by one or more OC students. Need to solve a Rubik’s cube, but don’t have time to do it yourself? Hand it over to the LEGO robot built and programmed by one of Brush’s teams. DeSousa provided some background.

“We’ve been working on it since last year,” said DeSousa. “Assembly only took a day or two, but we’ve made lots of modifications.”

The Rubik’s cube is placed on a rotating tray beneath a stationary arm fitted with color sensors that scan each side of the cube as it turns. The robot then solves a series of algorithms to determine a solution based on the orientation of the colored tiles on the cube and initiates the mechanical steps to get it done.

The team programmed “Mindcub3r” by customizing open-source software selected from programs available on the Internet.

“We had to make some adjustments and do some tweaking to get everything working just right,” said Chris Lambert, who also worked on the Mindcub3r.

The group is using EV3, one of the newest versions of Mindstorms LEGO robot-building component series. The boys working on Mindcub3r would like to continue studying engineering. Jared Boren is interested in music engineering/production.

Leandra Stroud-Jackson programmed her wheeled robot to navigate a course using a carefully planned series of turns.

“It’s a program that counts and measures as it moves,” said Stroud-Jackson. “Right now, I only have between 410 and 420 degrees of rotation on the outside wheel to initiate a ninety-degree turn, so I think I’ll need to do a little more work to get it just right.”

Leandra recently transferred to OC and is happy to be working with Brush’s team. She is obviously having fun (her robot’s name is “TooSaucy”), but her sights are seriously set on a degree in Criminal Justice (she’s already chosen Dean College) and, eventually, the FBI.

Isabella Mauradian’s robot “Rebel” attracted a crowd as sixth graders moved black-colored cards around the floor and watched the LEGO device roll, stop, and change direction as Rebel’s sensors responded.

“My robot uses a program which recognizes color,” said Mauradian. “It is calibrated to recognize black. I also had to program the timer block.”

Mauradian has been learning engineering in Brush’s class since she was a freshman and is very happy to have Stroud-Jackson as a classmate.

“Leandra just started with us, but she caught on really fast!” said Mauradian, who has big plans of her own. “What’s the newest invention? I can make that!” She continued, “I want to make stuff – to fix stuff! I would like to study electronics and engineering and just see where it takes me.”

“Technology is just so rapidly evolving,” said Stroud-Jackson.” She makes another point which is clearly appealing to these pragmatic kids: “Women are NEEDED in this field and they can make a lot of money!”

OC students alternate their class schedules, spending two weeks on “shop” and two weeks on academics. They are learning all aspects of electronics, including the basics of resistors, capacitors, semiconductors, and analog tech. Dan Brush’s “Vex” robotics group meets every other Tuesday after school until about 8:00 pm.

“My school day starts at 7:30 am, so those are long days, but it’s great,” said Brush. “We order pizza and we get a lot done.”

Brush clearly enjoys his work and looks forward to regional robotics competitions in December and March.

(Thank you to Lisa Lourenco & Dan Brush for their assistance with this piece.)

By Erin Bednarczyk

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