Congratulations to our GSA Robotics team! This past Saturday they traveled to south Pasadena and competed in the 2015 Greater Los Angeles Botball® Tournament.
Adara, Emma, Gabe, Matthew, Morgan, and Siena (grades 7-9) competed against twenty-two other middle and high school teams from Los Angeles and other surrounding counties, and finished ninth.
“The fact they placed ninth in their first ever tournament is outstanding,” says the team’s mentor and Garden Street Academy technology specialist, Mack Fixler. “It’s a challenging tournament, so most new teams finish near the bottom of the pack.”
Botball was started in 1997 by the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics (KIPR). Students have seven to nine weeks to design, build, and program two autonomous robots (no remote controls) to accomplish a series of tasks in a limited amount of time (two minutes). Every year KIPR designs a new set of objectives and playing field on which to complete the objectives.
Every team builds their robots from the same kit. The kits include a Roomba-like iRobot® Create robot base, LEGO® pieces, motors, servos and compatible metal parts. Cameras and other sensors help the robots to locate objects and move around the playing field. To help keep the tournament competitive, the kits have all the tools necessary to build the robots without needing power tools or a fabrication shop.
Each robot has a small computer (controller) that acts as the brain. It’s about the size of a stack of four bathroom tiles. Students program the controller using the C programming language. They write code on the laptops, connect to the controller with a USB cable, upload the program, then test how well the robot performs the code.
Programming a robot is a powerful experience. The feedback of watching a robot move and react to real-life obstacles based on code a student has written is much more interesting than watching a screen output graphics and text.
It should be noted that as mentors, Mack and Matt Kissel were not allowed to help build or program the robots—the students did all the work.
Middle School LEGO robotics unit set the stage
This past fall, the Middle School used a LEGO Robotics curriculum for the science and engineering unit. The motors, sensors and servos used in LEGO EV3 Robotics kits are similar to those in the Botball kits. The LEGO Robotics kits use a graphic-based programming tool to make programming easier for first-timers.
The LEGO unit was a perfect stepping stone for Botball. Middle School learned how robots could interact with their environment, and also learned the basic programming concepts needed to program with a real, text-based programming language.
It was the unit’s success that led Mack to ask if he could put together a robotics team to compete in this year’s Botball tournament.
The importance of writing and teamwork
Documentation is a crucial part of Botball. Students must submit written progress reports explaining their goals and any challenges they encounter. At the tournament, students also give a presentation describing the design of their robots and the results of performance test. Points are awarded on the quality of their documentation and presentation. The team ranked fourth in the documentation category.
The also had to learn how to work as a team. They held discussions to develop a system to resolving conflicts and make sure everyone’s opinion was heard. That framework was then used to assign tasks so that everyone was a productive as possible.
This cooperation was especially important with the short two-month time frame. The team had to contend with a two-week spring break all the while juggling after school sports and other extracurricular activities.
The GSA Robotics teams built and programmed two robots: Sheldon and Jeff. Sheldon is small simple robot that looks like a snow plow, designed to sweep puffballs of various colors off the table. Jeff is the larger iRobot-based machine that looks like a crane. Jeff’s function is to knock objects off of a shelf located above the playing field.
The robots earn points based on how well the accomplish the tasks created by the tournament organizers. The students decided which tasks the robots would attempt. Because it was their first competition, choose tasks they felt were challenging but still achievable.
The tournament lasted all day. The morning entailed three seeding rounds in which the teams had two minutes to earn as many points as possible. The teams were ranked based the total points earned over the three rounds. GSA Robotics ranked ninth after the seeding rounds.
The rankings served as the basis for seeding the teams for the double elimination rounds in the afternoon. In double elimination play, GSA Robotics completed directly with other teams. The team won twice before being knocked out of the tournament.
The Botball tournament isn’t free. It costs $2500 for a new team to enter, and that doesn’t include travel expenses or the materials Mack used to build a practice field for our students. Fortunately, we had some very generous sponsors and we’d like recognize them for their invaluable contributions.
- $1,500 Scholarship awarded by Botball and funded the NASA Robotics Alliance Project
- $1,000 donation by Jeff and Sue Kouba
- $500 donation by Kollmorgen
Garden Street Academy thanks our donors for helping provide a wonderful experience for our students. Huge thanks also to Mack Fixler for initiating and mentoring the team, and to Matt Kissel for his mentorship as well.
Finally, congratulations to our talented, creative and dedicated students. To watch them grow by taking risks and rising to the challenges of the tournament was amazing. They and their families should be extremely proud of their accomplishment.
We can’t wait to compete again next year and bring this experience to even more students.
If you’d like to help sponsor next year’s team, please contact Mack Fixler at 805-687-3717 x603, or [email protected]