Meadville Tribune

Local News

April 4, 2014

The Builder: Student offers RoboBOTS building insight

MEADVILLE — Have you ever wanted to just build something that you could control? Something that will do everything you command it to do? I wanted to build something like that back when I was a kid and in seventh grade. And I was able to do so by joining the RoboBOTS competition.

I have learned many tasks by joining the competition and being part of the teams over the past five years. I am going to tell you my experience and everything I have learned by being part of the RoboBOTS competition. Since seventh grade, I have built everything from a bot that simply rammed into things to a complex bot that looked like two pop cans on their sides. Every bot we built, whether it was a square or a circle, involved a lot of time designing and doing math.

Back in seventh grade, my first bot I built was “The Ram,” which was a simple bot in the shape of a square that had snowmobile spikes on the sides. You’re not my best creation, but hey, it was still a pretty good idea for a 12-year-old. In the process of building “The Ram,” I learned how to imagine what it was I wanted to build and then draw it perfectly as I saw it in my head.

After drawing it, I learned how to use SolidWorks (a three-dimensional mechanical computer-aided design software program) to draw the structure, motors, battery and speed controller and also put it all together to become one file instead of seven or more files. Using SolidWorks made the drawing look neater than sketched out on a notepad.

Then, I learned how to take measurements for the locations of the holes on the motors and bearing blocks to mark and drill the holes out to bolt them to the bottom piece. I had also learned how to solder wires and connect wires from the motors and battery to the speed controller. “The Ram” was a great beginner’s project and showed me what I was up against in future years.

My second bot, I had built when I was in eighth grade, was named “White Lightning,” which was a square with a drum for a weapon. The drum was an aluminum cylinder with aluminum bars welded into it. The weapon spun between 3,000 and 5,000 rotations per minute, but I cannot remember exact numbers.

With this bot, I used my skills from SolidWorks the previous year and learned how to use Mastercam to export a CNC (computer numerically control) file. I learned how to operate a CNC Mill to machine the entire bot at one time.

Even though the bot didn’t involve too much more than “The Ram,” it was still frustrating trying to get everything to fit together properly, have a good offense and defense, and also still be less than 15 pounds. Yes, every bot at the competition has to be 15 pounds or less. The competition is not just fun and games; there are a lot of regulations and rules that must be followed at all times.

The third bot I built I had been designing with my dad, Asa Williams III, who teaches at Maplewood Junior-Senior High School. He brought up the idea of two pop cans laying on their side together. I thought for well over a month on how I could get this idea to work, then it clicked.

Our design had two hollow cylinders that acted as the shell. The cylinders held a platform for the hardware and motors. The cylinder had a cap on one end for the motor to connect to, but our problem was the platform. When the motor would be engaged, the platform would spin. At the time, we had not built a prototype; we were just thinking about how physics would kick in.

After realizing this problem, it was a simple fix. We built a hammer that would connect to a shaft that attached the two cylinders. The hammer would move with the interior parts, stopping them when the weapon hit the floor, and allowing the cylinders to spin and become wheels. I had learned a lot about physics while building my rolling bot that I decided to name “Steam Roller,” and I had learned how to diagnose and solve complex problems before even building the project. “Steam Roller” was, by far, the most complex RoboBOT I have ever and will ever build. My team and I that year won “Coolest Bot” for the design of “Steam Roller.”

Now, for this year’s bot, I revamped the “White Lightning” idea and created “White Lightning 2.0.” I got sprockets and chains to make the bot’s four-wheel drive, making it become faster and stronger. I had also changed the size of the weapon and structure of the weapon.

This year I have learned how to design and build something fast. We were slower than we normally were on the design and getting started, which really made things hard the past couple weeks. Plus, I found out just a month ago that we were overweight by two pounds and I had to problem-solve a solution. So this year was more of a fight against time than anything, which was nice to have because everything in life is a fight against time. This fight showed me how to act fast and get the job done quickly.

The past few years being part of the competition has been the best. I have learned a lot of skills that I will be able to apply to most of the things I do daily, and it has all been a lot of fun. I have been able to work with great people from not only Maplewood, but from other schools as well.

While at the competition, we don’t treat each other as rivals. We treat each other as teammates, as we help other teams with their problems. We don’t even usually see each other as rivals when our robots are in the arena being destroyed. We still shake hands and smile and show how great of a time we are having.

Being part of all of this was a great pleasure of mine and I will miss it very much when I graduate next year. I am very happy with everything the program has taught me and I could not even begin to thank everyone who busts their butts every year to make this possible for us. To everyone who is reading this that is part of getting this program together, I would like to thank you so much for making it such a great time and such a wonderful experience. Last, to everyone reading this, I hope to see you at future RoboBOTS competitions!

Asa Williams IV is a junior at Maplewood Junior-Senior High School.

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