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Robotics Summer Program: A Great Success! August 4, 2015

Posted by Sean Musselman in Science Center, Student Work.
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For the second year in a row the Burlington Science Center has conducted a summer robotics programs through Burlington’s annual summer school programs. Incoming fourth and fifth grade students of roughly equal amounts attended, some with previous robotics experience but many with none at all! To help guide our “roboteers” on their journey a number of high school and middle school volunteers were enlisted to support the camp’s efforts. Perennial summer science teachers, Christine Sheppard and Elana Snyder were also back to assist with much of the logistics and to learn more about the basics behind robots for themselves! The theme of the camp was to construct a robot that could undertake several different kinds of challenges on the mysterious exo-planet, “Taboor-3.” In several cases the goals for our robots could be seen in some of the jobs of NASA’s own Spirit and Opportunity robots on Mars. Students were introduced to the idea that robots have historically been designed to perform tasks that fit under at least one of the 3Ds: “Dull, Dirty, and Dangerous.”

Morning Robotics Club meeting where students are captivated by video from recent FIRST Challenge.

A photo posted by Burlington Science Center (@burlingtonsciencecenter) on Jul 23, 2015 at 5:25am PDT

The first two days presented steep learning curve’s as students navigated their way around the LEGO Mindstorms programming software and learned how to use and manipulate the block code system to get the robot to do what they wanted it to. Students recognized the importance to detail in programming as small differences in code or robot wiring inevitably had dramatic impacts on robot behavior in their field tests. By the middle of the first week though students were able to start putting together some impressive bots capable of meeting robust challenges initially many considered to be unobtainable. Using the sensors on the Lego EV3 sets students were able to automate robot behavior, developing “Roomba-like robots” that traversed the oddly shaped foire of the MSMS 2nd floor without bumping into walls or falling down stairs.

These ladies are doing a great job completing their roomba challenge! Anusha from @bhsrobotix has been a big help! #OMGrobots A video posted by Burlington Science Center (@burlingtonsciencecenter) on Jul 23, 2015 at 8:04am PDT

Robotics Camp: To the edge and back! Yikes!!! #bpschat

A video posted by Burlington Science Center (@burlingtonsciencecenter) on Jul 27, 2015 at 9:56am PDT

Later students added light sensors capable of detecting “valuable green minerals” on the floor and alerting robot operators by sending alert signals to their users.

  A video posted by Burlington Science Center (@burlingtonsciencecenter) on Jul 27, 2015 at 6:13am PDT

Students learned the basics behind binary code, learning how to right their name through a series of on/off switches. Once this skill was mastered a guest engineer (Mr. Snyder!) joined us to talk about his work with semiconductors (the switch systems of robots) in wearable technology like Fitbits and Apple watches. He was even kind enough to bring in a prototype to explore along with several other circuit boards.

Engineer Steve sharing our robotics club how a gyroscope and accelerometer work in real time. #askascientist A video posted by Burlington Science Center (@burlingtonsciencecenter) on Jul 28, 2015 at 5:37am PDT

  Examining circuit boards and a wearable prototype!   A photo posted by Burlington Science Center (@burlingtonsciencecenter) on Jul 28, 2015 at 5:50am PDT

In the final two days students were given the choice to participate in one of three “MEGA Challenges.” Some students chose to participate in the “Mini-Golf challenge” where robots were designed to automate the striking and/or dropping of a marble placed in various different positions to simulate “tees” onto a small target (the hole) for points.

Surprise twist on this golf shot! A video posted by Burlington Science Center (@burlingtonsciencecenter) on Jul 30, 2015 at 9:18am PDT

Other students selected the “Butler-Bot challenge,” a technically difficult scenario where students were asked to build a robot that would travel from a “bedroom to kitchen” and use some sort of capture device to pick up a bottle of water and return it to the bedroom.

  Mission accomplished! So impressive!!!   A video posted by Burlington Science Center (@burlingtonsciencecenter) on Jul 30, 2015 at 9:38am PDT

The third and final challenge rested more on student ability to collaborate and work together to construct a robotic “dance team.” In this scenario, students had to first select and choreograph a dance before coding the robot to get them to dance synchronously with one another.

Getting closer! A video posted by Burlington Science Center (@burlingtonsciencecenter) on Jul 30, 2015 at 8:04am PDT

As you can see, not all challenges were fully accomplished… But that’s ok! From day 1 students were reminded that failure is a big part of the design process, and that we learn and grow the most by paying attention to our failures and finding ways to improve on them. By camp’s end we could see that this message had been fully understood as all of our students left with smiles and a sense of pride and accomplishment, no matter what the final results of their robots!

DevilBotz Performance in High Gear at Northeastern Robotics Tournament March 31, 2014

Posted by Sean Musselman in Burlington Community.
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For several months the Burlington High Robotics Team has been hard at work after school, on weekends, and in their spare time perfecting their Devilbot for this past weekend’s FIRST Robotics Regional Tournament. The team did not disappoint; qualifying for the final elimination round competition after being selected by the Manchester club, “Robots by the C” to join their three-team alliance in the elimination rounds.

The Devilbotz at BHS before their FIRST Robotics Competition at Northeastern.

The Devilbotz at BHS before their FIRST Robotics Competition at Northeastern.

“During our first competition in Nashua we reached the quarterfinals, which was nice and we hoped here at Northeastern we could go even farther,” said team president Marko Lazarevic.

The Devilbotz approach to this year’s challenge served them well all year long. With the “coop-ertition” offering scoring opportunities for goal scoring, defense, and cooperation between teams through passing and sharing, the Devilbotz focused on the later scoring from the get-go. “We wanted our robot to be maneuverable, fast, agile, able to get out of any rough situations, focusing only on the low goals,” said Lazarevic (the competition has goals both low to the ground and roughly six feet off the ground for balls to be both shuttled into or flung through from a distance.) The fork-lift style way in which the Devilbotz robot collected and maneuvered the ball also lent itself extremely well to cooperative play, making seemingly effortless passes that increased the value of goals scored.

Over a day and a half the Devilbotz competed in 12 matches. “Friday started off really well, we started out in the top 4 out of 40 robots which is really good,” said Lazarevic. “But then we ran into some trouble with a gearbox we were using.” That gearbox was more than just some trouble. After being rammed by a competitor robot mid-day Friday the robot faced challenges with its grabbing mechanism and had difficulty controlling and maneuvering the ball. Over the course of the day the Devilbotz slipped down the leaderboard and faced a great deal of uncertainty over how they would fare the next day.

The Devilbot is a complex mesh of mechanical, electrical, and programming know how!

The Devilbot is a complex mesh of mechanical, electrical, and programming know how.

Compounding to the challenge were the busy schedules of the team’s participants. With many members also holding roles in the Grease performance back home in Burlington, there was limited time to make the necessary adjustments. Robotics club coach, Arshad Khan and volunteer, Gerry Pothier both shared admiration for the students resolve to get the robot back on its feet. “They were here up to the minute they could be before leaving for the show, and came back early the next day to get the robot running smoothly again” said Pothier, a parent volunteer who has seen many of his children come up through the early years of the robotics program. “Really impressive. It was great to see them problem solving on the fly and refusing to give up.”

Lazarevic took a glass half-full approach to the challenge as well. “Without the arm, we had to help our teammates in other ways. It was actually really good for us to be able to show off our defensive skills in the afternoon after we had shown what we could do on offense in the morning. We showed that we could adapt to any situation that was thrown at us and wasn’t completely debilitating to us even though we dropped in rank.”

With the robot back to full strength on Saturday the team allayed any fears fellow competitors had about choosing them for their elimination round alliance.  Burlington joined Manchester and “Ozram” from Weare, New Hampshire during the draft stage between the qualification and elimination rounds.

Devilbotz outside Granite State College during their first qualifying competiton earlier in March.

Devilbotz outside Granite State College during their first qualifying competiton earlier in March.

The teams success has only increased year over year as it has grown in size and talents. Lazarevic shared the diversity of roles team members play over the course of a year. “We have a mechanical team who help build a robot, an electrical team that wires it all together, the programming team that makes sure everything works and then a logistics team that handled the business and marketing part of the program.” Some members are more involved than others as many teammates participate in sports and other programs, but during the competitions “all are invited and its a good morale boost just to know that we have a lot of people cheering us on.” Lazarevic went on to add how important the parent mentors, sharing how “every mentor we have is important and makes a difference in their own way and that we really love our mentors.”

The afternoon got off to a tough start, with another malfunction putting their newly formed alliance at a disadvantage and unable to catch up to their competition. With the robotics competition season coming to a close many team members now shift gears and focus their attention toward younger robot enthusiasts like the LEGO Robotics Club at Francis Wyman, sharing their expertise and mentoring abilities to help the next generation of club members hone their skills from an early age and prepare them for whatever challenge the FIRST competition throws at them.

Lego League Bringing Students of All Ages Together June 5, 2013

Posted by Sean Musselman in Burlington Community.
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Drop by the Francis Wyman library on a Monday afternoon and you’ll witness some of the most incredible learning and mentorship taking place between Burlington students. Approximately twenty fifth graders work in groups of two and three, constructing robots of all different designs and purposes. Alongside them sit volunteers from the Burlington High School Robotics Club, providing guidance and encouragement but providing the freedom for the younger students to experiment, create and test their own unique machines.


Marshall Simonds student, Michelle Pothier with club participants brainstorming what’s next for their robot.

“The club’s main goals are to introduce kids to basics of design, problem solving, what is a robot and how do robots work” says Gerry Pothier III, an alumni of the club who sits beside Michelle Pothier, a middle school robotics team member assisting students assembling a “capture and throw” robot. “The biggest challenge for the kids is to bring a concept they have to reality and communicating with their teammates how they want to do that.”


Constructing the robot using LEGO Mindstorms robotics kits purchased through a grant by the BEF in 2010.

Club coaches and Francis Wyman teachers, Cid D’Amico and Anne Rigby are quick to admit that their role is largely supervisory. They point to the volunteers as the real cogs that move the club forward. From their perspective they see another side to the learning taking place.

“This club is really bringing kids together, forcing them to work alongside partners… work with each other,” says D’Amico a fifth grade teacher at Francis Wyman.


Fifth graders program their robot with guidance from BHS volunteers.

The Lego Robotics club is now in its third year at Francis Wyman. It was originally started with the help of the Burlington Education Foundation, spearheaded by the Pothier family who had students in Francis Wyman at the time.

“This in itself is an incredible experience for a high school student,” says Roberta Pothier. ” One of reasons we started a program in the Francis Wyman was to show the younger students what their capabilities are now and in the future.  My daughter was in the 5th grade at the time the program started and is [now] an active participant on the high school team. We have started a program on a smaller level at the middle school this year and hope to expand that in the future.”

The Francis Wyman Robotics Club is an eight-week program that runs through the end of the school year. Keep your eyes open on this blog for final robot designs from our budding robotics engineers!