Friday, December 28, 2007

12/28 Power Lines and Wave Turbine Videos

Patrick made the corn mission more reliable and Joey finished the power lines this morning. The power lines mission plants 2 trees and connects 3 properties to the power plant. With the wind turbines and dam, it's worth 50 points alone.

We also shot a new video of Nate's house solar panel mission that now throws the wave turbine into the water. Paul designed and built the new wave turbine to work this way.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

12/27 Minutes

We had a very productive meeting. Alex worked on the Alien Chicken. Andrew, Danny and Sam also worked on project. The whole team spent quite some time hashing through the mission order and discussing ways of reducing our time. The order was mostly agreed upon until finally Joey and Paul volunteered to decide on the final order so the rest of the team could continue on other tasks. The order now combines more missions and requires fewer implement changes. The group decided to decline to do the coal mining. We discussed methods of organizing the programs so that it doesn't take so long to sequence through them. Andrew volunteered to bring an example "super program" that is faster. A new mission tracker has been published at the link on the right.

Mrs. Naughton brought in some tri-fold display boards for the project, technical and general presentation. Each boy is to bring a bio sheet to the next meeting to put on the general board - 3 to 5 sentences and a head shot (school photo?) if they have it.

Joey, Michael, Danny, Patrick and Alex all volunteered to introduce the group for the project, including writing up the introduction. We had a secret ballot and Michael was voted in.

Mr. Emge discussed some of the problems with move blocks with turns. This was an issue with corn harvesting. By changing to single wheel turns, Patrick was able to modify his program and get a pretty repeatable mission in a short time. He came in before the meeting to accomplish this and the video is below. He is returning tomorrow to make it less sensitive to alignment in base. He also found a way to send out an oil barrel at the same time, since we must get an oil barrel to the farm to make the harvest count. This means we still get points for the corn even if we didn't get the truck sent to the farm, which was the original order.

Nate also came in before the meeting and refined the solar panel program, using a light sensor. It's pretty reliable using different robots. Paul built a wave turbine that rides on the solar panel so that it gets thrown over the house when the solar panel is installed, combining these missions.

Joey and Paul worked on power lines Wednesday morning, including planting 2 more trees. They figured out how to use the light sensor and touch sensor to put it repeatably in a really good spot. There is a little work to do on it yet and when they finish, a video will go up. It uses the same "scoop" implement as many other missions, and gets 50 points, so this is a really good accomplishment.

Below is a video of Patrick's corn harvesting mission.

Monday, December 24, 2007

12/23, Meeting minutes

We're still at 10 minutes for all missions, but Nate spent some time before the meeting finishing the solar panel installation mission. It's a dead-reckoning program but works very well. Video below.

In addition, the team continued work on the project and Paul and Alex got the dam working.

Nice job, Nate!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

12/22 - Uranium Mission Video

Paul fine tuned the Uranium mission today using light and touch sensors.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

12/20 Meeting Update

It's been a while since the last post and Supernova has made tremendous progress. The project is going very well. The boys are finished with their research and are bulding the presentation book. They stayed after school today to get pictures taken for it.

T-shirts are in and will have the new logo on them - same as on the top of this page. Thanks to Nate and Patrick for the designs. The team had a secret vote to pick between them.

All robots are now built identically and the team has finished almost all the missions. Robot time during normal meetings is now spent practicing and getting the time down. Last week was the first attempt at all missions. Currently it takes about 10 minutes but they are learning the importance of proper alignement in base and quick attachment changes.

The team is going to build a notebook with the proper alignment for each mission. The implements are also going to be modified slightly to make them easier to attach - things like common peg location and making the pegs "captive" in the robot. The few missions that need program modifications are now being worked on when those team members can come over and work outside the normal meeting time.

Soon, we will be working on the design review presentation. That will be a good time for the boys to reflect on just how much they've learned and let that come through to the judges.

We will be posting a schedule for the Christmas break. There will be extra meeting times where they can come in and work in small groups to fine tune their missions and presentations.

Friday, November 2, 2007

11/1 Meeting Minutes

Today we had a special guest to speak to the team about where Naperville and, therefore Highlands, gets its power. Mr. Allan Poole is the Director of Public Utilities for the City of Naperville. He shared a wealth of knowledge but a small summary is below. The boys had a lot of very good questions. At the end of the meeting, Mr. Poole distributed some light-sticks, balsa planes and whistle key chains. THANK YOU MR. POOLE FOR THE GENEROUS GIFT OF YOUR TIME AND KNOWLEDGE!
  • Showed a map of the electricity grid in Illinois and surrounding states and explained the various forms of energy and how they supply the grid.
  • Brought pictures of the different kinds of power generation plants, including wind turbine farms.
  • Compared/contrasted the percentage of each kind of power the US and IL consume.
  • Described the advantages of replacing old coal plants with new ones (more efficiency and less pollution, especially mercury).
  • Discussed global warming and greenhouse gasses and some of the research into sequestering CO2.
  • Discussed renewables and how they must become the long term solution solution, while the more efficient non-renewable plants support our intermediate needs.
  • Discussed ethanol and bio-diesel and how they compete for our food supply resources.
  • Stressed the importance of conservation in solving the energy problem.
  • Stressed the importance of education to meet the increasing demand for scientists and engineers needed to work on solving the energy problem

At the end of the meeting, the team discussed Michael & Andrew's robot, which they had modified since last time. There was a short discussion of steering with 4 rigid wheels and how casters follow the tangent of the circle of rotation.

Mrs. Naughton discussed the project work for next meeting. As a reminder, each team member should come up with 2 or 3 topics that they would like to work on for the project.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Regional Tournament Announced!

Supernova's Regional Tournament date has been set. There are 16 teams, 4 of which will continue to the State Tournament.

January 12, 2008
Lake Forest Country Day School Regional
Lake Forest Country Day School
145 S. Green Bay Rd.
Lake Forest, IL

Doors open at 7:30 AM
Opening ceremonies at 8:00 AM
Tournament ends at approximately 1:00 PM
Located just north of West Leigh on Green Bay Rd. Use Green Bay entrance and enter at the front door. Lunch of sub sandwiches, cookies and pop will be available.

Contact: Marc Arthur, 847-615-6161,

10/28 Meeting Minutes

Although the team has made great progress on the missions, they have not all been giving best effort on the project. Starting this week, anyone that doesn't give best effort on the project segment of the meeting will do a second session on the project and not work on the robot missions. The coaches repeated the points breakdown to remind the team that the project is worth the same amount as the robot performance during tournament judging. The team is very interested in going to the State tournament and want to do well on all aspects. We don't expect that many members of the team will have to lose their mission time.

OK, that being said, this was an exciting meeting. Mrs. Naughton contacted Allan Poole at Naperville Utilities and he has graciously agreed to assist the team with their energy project. He will come to our Thursday, 11/1 meeting to talk to the team. We again had 1/2 time on project and 1/2 time on missions. The project effort focused on preparing questions for Mr. Poole.

As a result of last meeting, the mission goal this week was to re-design the robot. Michael and Andrew brought in a new working robot and Joey brought in an innovative "stroller steering" robot design concept. First, the team generated a list of requirements on the white board. We then spent quite a long time discussing the best way to come up with a new design. Possible ways were 1) elect 2 or 3 boys to do it, 2) draw straws, 3) break into teams 4) build test robots. At the very end, Danny articulated the following: "we should combine the best of the robots we have into one robot, leaving out the parts of each that don't work". That lead to picking 3) and using his statement as a guideline.

During each team's mission time, they first used a voting method to prioritize the requirements. Then, they critiqued each of our 4 robots (tri-bot1, tri-bot2, Joey-bot & Toennies-bot), by thinking about what was most important, and came up with a composite design. Below is a shot of the white board with the requirements. The two teams were Black (Michael, Andrew, Patrick and Paul) and Red (Joey, Sam, Alex & Danny). The circled numbers indicate the priority of the requirements for each time. The hash marks were used as each team member picked what they considered most important (voting for each requirement only once). Also shown below are the Joey-bot (RCX) and Toennies-bot (NXT). The consensus for the teams is as follows:

Black Team: Liked Toennies-bot. Paul: need to move the NXT up vertically to make room for programmable battery. All: move NXT forward and make 1" shorter to be no longer than tri-bots. Needs a light sensor. Some questions about the casters.

Red Team: Also liked Toennies-bot. Joey is anti-caster due to their tendency to steer the robot when changing directions. Mr. Emge challenged them to come up with a better caster design. Alex suggested improving implement attachment. Alex, Sam and Danny didn't like the caster design either.

General re-design: use the Toennies-bot. It has good weight distribution but needs to be shorter and the caster design needs some work. In tests it seems to have good traction. The arm motor leaves good access to the buttons and screen. Michael and Andrew will address some of these issues and bring the bot back for next week. The team wants to move to the final design as soon as possible since it impacts their programs.

Requirements Joey-bot Toennies-bot

Great work by all this week.

10/25 Meeting Minutes

Mrs. Naughton returned from vacation and continued the project effort for half the team while the other half worked on their missions. They brainstormed about what specifically can be improved at Highlands and what recommendations we might make. The groups switched half way through the meeting.

Mr. Emge's engineering secret was "Don't Believe in Magic". When things don't happen like you expect, there is a reason why and you can figure it out. We discussed how we can use critical thinking, experiment and ask others to help us think it through and solve the mystery.

Mr. Emge and Michael segued directly to a repeatability problem when deploying the solar satellite. After some close observation it was determined that the robot was losing traction. Michael lowered the power level and it became more repeatable. They further analyzed the problem and found poor weight distribution.

During the meeting summary, Joey demonstrated his rack and pinion front-steer robot design concept. The team discussed the pros and cons of the two types of steering and as a group agreed that they would like to keep the differential steering mechanism of tri-bot. The robot traction problem was also discussed. Mr. Emge presented the issue with front-wheel drive vehicles and their weight transfer during acceleration. The team suggested re-designing the robot for better traction and that is the goal for the next meeting.

As we discussed the re-design, Michael had a very good question, "why did we build this robot if it doesn't work well"? The answer, that they didn't know then what they know now, really shows how far they've come in understanding what is important for their robot. The coaches are extremely proud of the progress they've made in the missions.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

10/21 Meeting Minutes

Today was all robots. We had some down time with some team members as they vied for robot and table time. Mr. Emge spent some time talking about simple vs complex designs with some team members to take advantage of some of the down time. Mrs. Naughton will be back for Thursday's meeting to continue the project work.

Alex tallied another 25 points by placing the hydro dam. He built a rig for pushing it out and programmed the robot to make it happen.

Michael is making progress on the solar sattelite and truck, but his design depends on an arm, and the arm used on the oil rig may change. He does have a nice claw for grabbing the truck that can be used once the main robot design is locked down. Joey was out so Andrew continued working on the oil rig, which is turning out to be challenging. Mr. Emge discussed lever arms and force direction to help him analyze problems with deploying the arm. The simple-vs-complex session also discussed the oil rig problem. He was encouraged to discuss with other team members to get ideas. Paul suggested an attached container, for example. Andrew also tried pulling the barrels out instead of pushing the arm. He is learning a lot, even if it's a bit frustrating working on one of the more difficult missions. No doubt he will succeed!

Danny built a new container for power plant power and worked with Paul to shorten the implement used on the 2nd mission set. Paul and sam worked on harvesting Uranium. They're almost there, but their mission also includes getting corn and coal, so they have a way to go.

Friday, October 19, 2007

10/18 Meeting Minutes

The team worked on their missions and are getting comfortable with the robot and software. Mrs. Naughton and Patrick were out of town, so Sam paired up with Paul to work on harvesting corn and mining Uranium and Danny worked with Alex on a container for power-plant fuel. Paul and Sam use the same implement as Danny, so they decided to continue his mission without returning to base, saving time.

Joey and Andrew continued to make progress on getting oil from the oil-rig. Mr. Emge got an answer on whether or not they could lose contact with their container during the mission and the answer was "yes". Joey also brought in an RCX mock-up of a front-steer robot to show the group, but it was too fragile so he decided to put that off. Michael is now doing the solar sattelite before getting the truck, so he started working on the combined missions.

Nate had a design worked out for installing the solar panel, but found out that it violated the rules by attaching it to his implement. He worked on other ideas that do not require attachment.

At the end of the meeting, Mr. Emge introduced the "KISS" design principle: "Keep It Simple, Supernova" - make the design as simple as you can while still getting the job done. Time was almost out, so we'll continue that next time.

We also discussed the mission order and the team agreed to Sam and Paul's recommendation that Wind Turbines and Tree Planting should be combined with Corn Harvest and Uranium Mining, with the new combined missions being performed second. Joey suggested that steps 4 and 5 be swapped so that while the Solar Panel and Wave Turbine are being deployed, they can fill the fuel container for the Power Plant mission. The team agreed and the new order is published at the right.

Next meeting is Sunday, 10/21 from 3:00-4:30.

10/11, 10/14 Meeting Minutes

On 10/11, Mr. Eric Militz took our team on a tour of Highlands chool and answered the audit questions generated at the 9/27 meeting. A big thanks to Mr. Militz for sharing his time with us and to Mrs. Naughton for setting it up. After this meeting, the team met back at the Emge's to discuss what they saw and work on their missions.

10/14 was our first Sunday meeting. The team concentrated on their mission work. We're now tracking our progress on the white board by points we've accomplished individually. Danny and Sam brought in our first 50 points!

Mr. Emge was out of town for both of these meetings.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

10/4 Meeting Minutes

We had one of our more productive meetings today. Breaking into pairs worked very well and we are beginning to see some real progress on the robot table. We took a break from the research project today but will pick up again this coming week.

Patrick's revised "Mission Tracker" is now the top link on this page. The team is continuing to evaluate this order and it will likely change again as they find more efficient ways to solve the puzzle.

Danny and Sam made some great progress on planting trees and installing wind turbines. They made a prototype of an implement, shown to the left, that is proving to be useful for other missions as well. They both spent a good amount of time testing their implement, "thinking like a robot". Paul helped with mounting to the robot and they began programming.

Joey showed some great initiative bringing a Lego building book to illustrate an idea he had about using rack and pinion instead of differential steering, as our current robots are built. The team has to figure out if this is the direction they'd like to go since it's a big change from what they have done so far. Joey did a great job getting his ideas across.

Patrick and Paul worked on design of a corn and uranium harvesting machine. Patrick was also thinking like a robot to test their ideas while Paul helped Danny and Sam. In their end-of-meeting summary they suggested changing the order so that they can dump the coal and push the truck out in the same mission. They are also considering abandoning their first design and trying Sam and Danny's implement.

Joey and Andrew worked together to bring oil barrels from the oil-rig to base. This is a challenging and critical mission since any oil in the water subtracts a lot of points. They are up for the challenge and tested Nate's oil catcher. They discussed improving Andrew's robot since the wheels have a lot of camber (angled).

Nate worked on ideas for the wave turbine and solar panel. He's planning to use the light sensor to navigate and requested to the team that one be designed into the robot and it was agreed to do this. He also plans to use a moving arm to lift the panel. Nate has a challenging pair of missions but he has great ideas and will be successful.

Alex worked on ideas for the power plant energy supply. He's still kicking around ideas but is also considering using Sam and Danny's implement. He was able to resist jumping straight to building to consider the options.

Halfway through the meeting, Mr. Emge spent 10 minutes on "Engineering Secrets". This week it was the secret to design - thinking it through before jumping to a solution saves a lot of time and testing helps to improve the ideas. Also, don't lose your programming work accidentally by saving your new work over the stuff you just got working. He showed the team a couple of complex circuit boards to show that you can accomplish some predictable results if you spend the time to do some planning on your ideas.

Mr. Emge will be out of town for the next 2 meetings.

10/4 Meeting Agenda

This week will be primarily robot design and building.

Summary and Agenda

Announcements to transition to new meeting structure:

* Added a second meeting – Sundays from 3-4:30, starting 10/14
* Added 2 stations for design and building
* Removed the electrical and wheel parts – ask coaches for the box if you need it
* We’ll have a sample schedule ready before the next meeting. All projects need small goals to meet the big one. The group will look it over and change it as necessary.
* We’re buying another robot! Need to establish rules for changing the robot chassis.

New meeting structure:
* Summary of last meeting
* Agenda for this meeting
* Engineering secrets, ~ 10 minutes
* Groups of 2 (or 3) Work at 4 stations, rotating every 15 or 20 minutes
* Each group summarizes their work during this meeting ~ 10 minutes (2 minutes each)
* Remind the group of any commitments


Mrs. Naughton – update on project

Engineering secrets: Learning from others – experts: how to design
Requirements - what is needed, at what cost and by when?
Concept Design - what basic strategy do we have?
Detailed Design - taking the concept ideas to a working robot
- robot (mechanical) design
- smarts (software) design
Testing - Does it do what we thought?
- if not, what can we improve?
- May need to “tweak” concept or details

Group work. Since we have so much information to show this week, we will only swap from robot testing and design one time. Mrs. Emge may also have some programming information at one station instead of design.
1. Joey & Andrew table/computer
2. Michael table/computer
3. Sam & Danny design*
4. Paul & Patrick design*
5. Alex & Nate design *
*Those not designated as table/computer can use 3rd computer for programming or join Mrs. Emge learning about programming


Commitments ?

10/3 Coaches Meeting Minutes

On Tuesday, Mrs. McCurdy and Mr. Emge attended a coaches' meeting on team dynamics. On Wed morning, all the Supernova coaches attended a meeting to discuss our team's meeting organization. We, the coaches welcome your input and want to keep everyone informed on what's going on.

The main results are:
  • Agreement to add a second meeting on Sundays at 3-4:30, starting 10/14. Mrs. McCurdy will send out an email to formally inform the parents. We can adjust the day and time if there are too many conflicts. We're hoping most of the team can make it most meetings.
  • Consensus that a second robot kit will help by giving us more building pieces and allow the kids to break up into more groups to design and test their missions. This will pretty much consume the rest of the money collected at the season start. We discussed using the highlands tie-die shirts for team shirts since most kids have them and there are a couple spares among the coaches families.
  • There are many ways to organize a group. Supernova is among the youngest and largest groups allowed by FIRST Lego League. We are lucky to have so many talented kids and we want them to be in an environment that feeds their amazing creativity. Long term, we decided on having 4 work stations going at a time. 2 for programming, 1 for robot hardware design and 1 for project work (adjust as necessary). We will rotate the kids every 15 to 20 minutes so they don't get bored. We'll try to keep groups to 2 kids, 3 as necessary. Depending on progress being made, we will adjust on the fly if it makes sense to let a group continue to focus.
  • Meeting structure will be:

- Summary of last meeting and state agenda for this one. Mr. Emge and Mrs. Naughton will plan the meeting agenda by email on Tuesdays before each meeting.

- 10 minutes of "engineering secrets"

- work on challenge at the stations

- last 10 minutes each group summarizes what they did during this session as practice for the technical presentation

9/27 Meeting Minutes

We had a busy meeting last week.

Mr. Emge and attended the IL coaches' kickoff meeting and Mrs. McCurdy attended via conference call. We got a lot of good information about the rules and rubrics for tournaments, which was conveyed to the team. Mr. Emge also reviewed "TrialBot1" and the team discussed its design.

Mrs. Naughton worked with the kids to generate a list of questions for the Highlands contact that is helping us with our building survey. Those questions have been delivered.

Mrs. Emge is going to put up a poster of the rules, and insert the rules and Q&A into a binder for easy access without disturbing those using computers for robot or project work.

Trib-bot was back for practice and the boys worked in groups to work on designing their missions.
Patrick brought in a new mission order and discussed with Mr. Emge. It's now posted on the white board.

Action items:
Mrs. Emge: put up poster and put rules & Q&A into binder.
Mr. Emge: 1) Send window ratings information to Alex from a magazine he has. 2) Answer question: can we intentionally lose contact with an item, like a container, as long as we regain contact and return to base, or is it a stray object immediately?
Mrs. Naughton: send questions to highlands
All Coaches: coaches meeting before next Thursday.
Team: Continue their mission designs.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

9/27/2007, Meeting Agenda, pics from 9/13

Strategy, continued

  • Trialbot1 review

  • Design process



Wednesday, September 19, 2007

9/20/2007 Meeting Agenda

Thanks to the Toennies for lending their laptop for our meetings. We now have 2 good computers for programming and 1 for project work.

Project research done by the team will be presented during the 1st half of the meeting, followed by robot design review and challenge planning. The boys will be encouraged to think like a robot for this exercise.

Mr. Emge attended the NXT training meeting and got some good design ideas and Lego tech support contacts.

Next week is the coaches' meeting.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

9/13/2007 Meeting Minutes

We spent the first part of the meeting discussing the challenge and how we need to solve to fundamental problems of strategy and robot design. The team broke up into 2 groups, 1 for robot design and 1 for strategy.

Robot builders: they took a departure from our test robot, "tri-bot", and built one that has a built in catcher on the front. There are some concerns with the robot as is and the boys will have to pick what is good about it, learn from its shortcomings, and come up with a better one. Some concerns are traction, size, sturdiness and turning radius.

The strategists had a hard time focusing on the task at hand, partly due to the size of the group, but they did come up with some good ideas. The coaches' homework this week is to think about how we can better keep focus on a group this large. One idea was to get a second robot kit. We have enough money to buy it from what has been collected, but then we may be short for t-shirts and misc. expenses later.

Homework for the group:
  • Mrs. Naughton passed out assignments for the project. Each member has a topic for doing some research and reporting back to the group.
  • Mr. Emge asked each member to think about how they would meet the challenge. What order would they perform the tasks and what sort of robot would they need? One idea is to picture yourself as the robot. You have wheels and attachment(s). You are a thinking robot but can only see with sensors and move with the motors- how do you meet the challenge?
See you all Thursday

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

2007 Challenge Announced!

The challenge link has been added to the right. Tomorrow's meeting will concentrate on the project first and the robot challenge second. We will keep this priority until the project is mostly complete, working on robot challenge strategy, robot building ideas and a line following algorithm in parallel.

Parents - please send in your consent forms. Copies were sent home and copies are available at the link to the right.

We've requested January regional tournaments. Assigned dates will be announced on 10/30.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Congratulations Alex!

Alex won the cub scouts Rain Gutter Regatta this past Sunday. Also competing from Supernova were Patrick, Paul and Danny. More pictures can be found at:

Friday, August 24, 2007

Meeting Minutes, 8/23/2007

The meeting flew by today. The team tried to put together the puzzle pieces on the map but we decided to defer that to work on some challenges.

The team populated the table with the challenge pieces that they built during the last two meetings. We discussed what we might need to do for the challenge and some strategy.

Paul was modifying the robot for moving uranium and corn.
Joey was working with Paul to also deploy the satellite solar panel with the same robot.
Paul, Nate and Alex were programming the robot to move corn.
Michael and Joey were programming it for the satellite.
Danny, Patrick and Andrew were programming it to move uranium.

With only 1 robot, Joey and Michael had some down time and went through a hands-on discussion of gear types and ratios.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Meeting Agenda, 8/23/2007

  • Populate the table with challenge assemblies.
  • Discuss what the challenge might be based on the mat and pieces.
  • Put together the power puzzle.
  • 3 teams working on programming a mini challenge, learning about gears and discussing how the challenge is judged. We'd like to have some working robots to show on Saturday.
  • "Homework:" Most teams have matching T-shirts with their name and logo. What should Supernova's logo be?