Building Robots at School

June 5, 2012

Getting Started In Vex Robotics: What should I buy?

Filed under: Uncategorized — dtengineering @ 7:17 pm

It seems to be a perennial question: “I’ve got a grant of $xxx.xx to start a VEX Robotics team. What should I buy?” I have to say it is a great question… and one I’m always happy to answer because it means another VEX team, and more kids getting a fun experience building and programming. The thing is… I’ve never got the answer “right”, at least not to my satisfaction. Part of that is because VEX is continually updating their product line, and part of that is because I keep getting good ideas and suggestions from VEX coaches, teachers and students. I’m going to put my thoughts on the matter here, but I’m also opening up a thread on this topic on the VEXforum, which is a great place to go for all sorts of VRC related information. <Edit: The form has been really helpful and posted some great suggestions… (see what ‘Sunny” and Paul Copioli have to say for some very complete and thoughtful lists) thank you to everyone who has posted, and keep the good ideas coming!>

I’m going to work on a budget of $1,500 to start one new team in VEX. As I am writing this primarily for our teams in BC, I’m going to factor in the 5% GST and 7%PST, so that quickly drops the budget down to $1,340. I’m also doing all my purchasing in Canadian funds, and ordering from iDesign Solutions as they are a great supporter of our VEX events here in BC. They’ve also been very good with their shipping rates… looking back at some of my previous purchases they have been able to ship some large orders for just $10, although speedier delivery times can cost $60 or more. In any case, I’ll set aside $40 for shipping, and work on an actual budget of $1,300. <Edit: American and overseas teams may want to look at… I’ve been purchasing robot supplies from them and their predecessors, IFI Robotics, for almost a decade now, and they are great to work with, too.>

I should also state that although I know VEX is coming out with some new classroom lab packages and new competition packages, I am writing this as if I were ordering today, in June of 2012. Some of the links will change, as will the parts and prices, but hopefully that thread on the VEXforum will stay alive with new information and ideas.

Item #1: VEX Classroom Competition Kit with Cortex  $1,142, part number 278-2007

This is essentially just a Classroom Lab kit with the Competition Robot Kit added in. There isn’t a great savings to be had by combining the two into one order, but they are both packages that I would have at the top of my “buy” list anyway. With this package a student should be able to design a robot capable of playing the VEX game. Yes, there will be lots of parts to add to make the robot more competitive over time, but given our budget, this is all the hardware I can recommend for now. See my list of “sweet upgrades”. I also feel a bit guilty putting hyperlinks to these items as VEX has already announced that they will be repackaging and renaming the classroom lab kit with a different set of components for the fall. If you look for something on the websiteswith a similar name and price point… you’ve probably found the new kit. (Or just call up and ask Agatha, Andy, or any of the good folks at iDesign.) Note that if you are planning on starting four or more teams at once, that there are special buys available on 4-packs and 8-packs of Competition Robot Kits. Contact your supplier for details.

Item #2: Programming Software $79

There are two main packages: EasyC V4 for Cortex and RobotC. There is a thread on the VEXforum dedicated to their differences, but in a nutshell EasyC is a drag and drop interface that largely eliminates syntax errors, while RobotC is a text based language where knowing your squiggly brackets and semicolons makes a difference. If you (or your students) don’t know what I mean by “squiggly brackets and semicolons”, then get EasyC. On the other hand, if you already know your != from your || operators then consider RobotC. My slight preference (and I’ve programmed in C, Assembler, Fortan, Pascal, Basic, and a few other languages like GameMaker) is EasyC. You can download trial copies of them… RobotC here, and EasyC here and make your own call, though.

The only caveat that I’d put here is that licensing can be a real pain in the butt. Each of these licenses is a single seat licence and is easy to install by itself on a computer, so long as you have control of the computer and it isn’t re-imaging, deep-freezing, or otherwise messing up your work. If you have network installations issues, then I’d suggest talking to your IT department or finding your team a free laptop computer first.

I’d also suggest that if you are planning to expand the number of teams in your organization that you consider purchasing a multi-seat license. RobotC options are available on RobotC’s website, and include either annual or perpetual licenses, as well as the option to add their Robot Virtual Worlds package to practice programming robots in a 3D virtual environment. EasyC is also available in a ten seat licence for $397.

Item #3: Storage Boxes/Tool Kits $80

<Edit: This is one place where the forum posts have convinced me I need to change my suggestions. Toolboxes are great, but for getting started there is no reason you couldn’t hit the grocery store and pick up some ziplock containers for the little parts and a tub with a lid on it for the plastic parts. Fishing tackle boxes are another suggestion, if they happen to be inexpensive where you live. Go cheap on the storage for now, and spend the money on extra motors! (see below for link)> There is no sense buying all this stuff if you don’t have somewhere secure to keep it, and a way of moving it around. My favorite toolbox, the Stanley FatMax, is $99 and breaks our budget just a bit, but it will work well for storing your parts for a long time to come. The FatMax breaks our budget and isn’t very good at storing little parts, so maybe consider a combination of the Deep Pro for $30, and watch the KMS tools flyer to grab one of these on half price (or less) for another $30. If KMS won’t give you a deal on the metal tool box, check out Princess Auto… they have a number of different options such as this 19″ tool box. Just make sure that the inside length of the tool box is at least 18″, so that you can store your 18″ long VEX metal parts in it. If that leaves a little bit of cash left over, either purchase an extra motor for your team, or some hardware to build a VEX Robot sizing/transportation box so that you can safely store and transport your robot, and (if you build the box right) make sure that it is never more than the 18″x18″x18″ dimensions allowed in the VEX rules. If you already have part storage for your robot worked out, I’d make a few extra motors and speed controllers my top priority.

Okay… that’s my $1,300 list. Add taxes and shipping, and we’re at $1,500. Tommorrow I’ll add a “wish list” of things that I’d look for next, as the team continues to grow. <Edit… hey, whaddaya know… it’s tommorrow now!>

What Would I Buy NEXT….?

Once you’ve got this set up, you’ve got the ability to start designing some pretty complex machines… but as your skills grow and your team becomes more competitive, you’re going to want MORE…

Item #4: Foam Playing Field Tiles: $12 to $200

The next item I’d get, however, would have nothing to do with the robot at all. I’d get some field tiles. If you’ve got several teams working in one space, and have a 12’x12′ area to practice, you may as well get a full set of official field tiles for $200. But if you’re just one team, you can get by with a set of four for just $12 at Home Depot, Canadian Tire or equivalent. Having a foam surface that is similar to the playing field is absolutely crucial for testing your robot’s mobility.

Item #5: Additional Batteries: $30 to $40

Official VEX batteries are the only battery packs accepted at competition events. (Sorry, no burning the place down when you overcharge a LiPo pack!) The 3000mAh batteries for $27 seem to be the most popular on the VEX Forum… but you’ve already got an $18 2000mAh battery in your classroom lab kit. Do you want your batteries to all be the same, making them easier to change out on the robot, or do you want the extra run time (and possibly a slight bit of extra power) from the larger ones? Either way, you always want to have a fresh battery waiting and ready to go for your robot…. but don’t go crazy on batteries just yet. One spare should see you through most competitions if you are careful about keeping it topped up. Later on when you start using the power expander, you’ll need a couple more robot batteries, and maybe even an extra charger. You’ll also want a $12 spare set of batteries for your transmitter (and you’ll need a tiny little phillips screwdriver to change them).

December 21, 2011

Robot Suppliers

Filed under: Uncategorized — dtengineering @ 11:24 am

A recent email from Kurtis at FingerTech Robotics reminded me that there are many very cool robotics and robot parts vendors that I don’t know about. I thought it would be worth listing some of my favorites here, and then asking for posts suggesting other sources. It is a bit late for the “holiday shopping season”, but never too late to find some blingy little bits to make your next project just slightly more awesome.

Locally, in Greater Vancouver, I like Lee’s Electronics for all sorts of sensors and connectors. If you’re in the area of Main and 29th, it is worth stopping by. In fact, I’d even say it is worth going there just for a visit to see all the stuff that they have. They are very friendly and helpful, even when the store is packed and busy. I also like Princess Auto, particularly their surplus section. They have bigger stuff, and a suprisingly good selection of pneumatic components at good prices. They have a wide range of #35 and larger chain and sprockets, as well as bearing blocks, so when you are dealing with a robot drive train on a larger machine (and don’t mind using heavier steel parts) you can find a lot of what you might need in stock at decent prices. Located on United Boulevard in Coquitlam, near IKEA and KMS Tools.

As far as Canadian vendors, I have to put iDesign Solutions at the top of my list for anyone interested in VEX parts. They have consistantly had the best prices (in Canadian dollars) for VEX parts over the past five years and have been strong supporters of VEX teams and tournaments in BC.

I’ve also linked to FingerTech, in Saskatoon, which has some very cool mecanum wheels in  a size and quality that I haven’t seen elsewhere, as well as some mini-sumo chassis/kits. I bought my first mini-sumo components from HVW Tech, in Calgary, over a decade ago and have been pleased with their selection and service since. I’m not sure I’d call RobotShop a 100% Canadian operation, but they do have a Canadian presence, with a website offering sales in Canadian dollars and brokerage-free shipping from Quebec, so I guess that counts. They have a very broad range of components.

The list of American suppliers is rather lengthy, so I’ll stick to some of my favorites. Most of these will specialize in the larger, FIRST Robotics Competition (120 pound and up) size robots and parts, but I’ve bought parts from all of them and have been uniformly pleased with the product and support. I’ve watched AndyMark grow from a tiny spin-off operation to a full-fledged business designing and creating some of the coolest “big robot” parts out there. They have a Canadian presence, so if you prefer to purchase in Canadian dollars and have things shipped without brokerage fees, ask them if they can help you out in that regard. Check out their gearboxes (mostly build around the indominitable CIM motor), and wheels… but they have much more than just that. The VEXPro line of components is very cool, too. Their ARM9 controller is on my “wish list” of cool robot stuff. For motors and planetary gearboxes in all sizes and ratios, I recommend BaneBots. I have to also recommend Trossen Robotics as they saved our bacon once in FRC by having the last 32:1 planetary gearbox for a speed 500 motor available in North America. They FedExed it to us overnight and while the shipping cost more than the gearbox, our machine was up and running by the end of the week.

You’ll see me refer to Polulu elsewhere, but they have not only about the cheapest prices that I’ve been able to find on the Tamiya gear boxes, but also a whole swack of other cool stuff, mostly for smaller robots and electronics projects.

Digikey is also a favorite place to shop… they take Canadian dollars and deliver, brokerage-free, faster than a neutrino in an Italian mountain. They also stock the Jaguar motor controller, probably one of the coolest speed controllers on the market.

Like I say, this is hardly a complete list of cool places to buy robot stuff. The Calgary robotics club has an even more comprehensive list, and I’m hoping people will post links to their favorite shops in the comments section. I have a great admiration for all those entrepreneurs who have turned their robot passion into robot profits and am happy to support their hard work and innovation.

October 15, 2011

Surface Mount Soldering Made (Sorta) Easy

Filed under: education,high school,teaching,Tech Ed,Technology — dtengineering @ 1:24 pm

I won’t say this is the simplest and easiest way to do surface mount soldering, but it is working great for me and my students. The trick is to use a very tiny amount of solder paste and a heat gun. The information, circuit board and code that you can download here will take you through the steps to build an SMD board with a PIC16f690, eight resistors and eight LED’s. It will use two capacitive touch pads and a neat little programming trick described in Microchip App Note AN1298, to work as capactive touch sensors. The code can be compiled and edited using Great Cow Graphical Basic.

The guide to surface mount soldering, as presented at the BCTEA Conference in Kamloops, is here.

Note: Links to the full-page printed circuit board and compiled HEX code will be coming shortly, WordPress is not allowing me to upload them due to “Security Reasons”.

October 5, 2011

Congratulations, Mr. Ablett!

Filed under: Uncategorized — dtengineering @ 9:12 pm

My good friend and colleague, Todd Ablett, was in Ottawa today to receive the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence. It is Canada’s top award for a K-12 teacher. Todd has had a very significant impact not just on the students at Gladstone Secondary, but also on other schools across BC. It was an honour to nominate him and a delight to see him win. I have attached his nomination here. Thank you to all who provided references and support…. YEAH TODD!!!

To see Todd’s nomination, click here: Todd Ablett Nomination for Prime Ministers Award

September 17, 2011

Registering for VEX in BC: 2011/2012 Version

Filed under: education,high school,Robotics Competitions,robots,teaching,VEX — dtengineering @ 9:36 am

Its hard to believe, but we’re in to another season of VEX Robotics Competition, and all indications are that this year will continue the rapid growth that VEX has seen in the BC/Washington area over the past five years. New schools and organizations are jumping on board not just in the Lower Mainland, but across BC. Alberta has teams and tournaments starting up in Calgary and Edmonton, and team growth in Washington and Oregon promises to help keep the international aspect of our VEX competitions vibrant and engaging.

As part of this growth PYRS (the Pacific Youth Robotics Society) is hosting the first “VEX Ideas Workshop” today to help teams get excited about this year’s game and overcome some of the usual “What the heck do I do NOW?” questions that we’ve all faced in our first season of competition.

So, in some attempt at logical order… here are some steps that you might want to take at an early stage to help guide your team to global VEX Robotics domination.

1) You need a robot. I talk a little more about funding sources in this post. 

2) You need a place to keep the robot parts. I talk a little more about that in this post. If you’ve got a cupboard or back room to store an 18″x18″x18″ robot that will help. Keep in mind that if you start with one robot this year, you could have several more a few years down the road.

3) You need a team. Sometimes this happens before you get the robot. That’s okay, too. A team can take on some of the responsibilities for pitching PAC and admin to help with funding and with sourcing sponsorship and support from the community. Typically teachers will start with a robot club and announce it in their school bulletin. Don’t be surprised when 40 or 50 students show up and you’re wondering how you’re going to manage this with just one robot kit. This is a great way to show admin that there is a demand for robotics at your school and while it is a great problem to have… it is still a problem. If you can’t get more kits then spend a couple weeks working on design problems, studying torque and other important concepts and you’ll find that only the truly hardcore roboteers will remain. Typically a VEX team will consist of one robot and four or five students… but there is no set number. Feel free to be flexible… you have to be when you’re getting started!

4) Register your team. Go to and click on the orange “register a team” button. You’ll have to click on the “log in” button and then create an account. This will be the account you will use to register for events and register additional teams, so make sure you keep track of the password and details. Registration is $75 for the first team from a school or organization, and $25 for each additional team. All teams taking part in VEX competitions must have a registered team number.

5) Register for some events. If you see a label of “registration closed”, don’t panic… that just means that registration for this event hasn’t opened yet. Keep an eye on the events and double check a month or so in advance and you’ll find they are available then. Despite the fact that each event has an “event capacity” that cap is pretty flexible… we haven’t had to turn away a team yet. (Although that may change over the next few years as the number of teams keeps growing.) Note that for events outside Vancouver/Lower Mainland that PYRS typically arranges bus transportation, allowing you to travel in relative comfort on a nice highway coach. If you are on the PYRS email list, you’ll receive notification of upcoming trips.

Here are some  events you might be interested in:

 November 5, Redmond, Washington

December 10, Richmond, BC

January 27, Courtenay, BC

Feb 18, Edmonton, AB

March 9: BC Championships at BCIT “A” Division and “B” Division

Keep an eye out on the main registration page as other dates in Washington State will be added… and, depending on your team, those competitions in Hawaii, California, Florida and overseas might just tickle your fancy one day.

6) Get some game pieces to practice with. No… wait… read the game rules… then get some pieces to practice with. I’d say that the Goal/Object kit is more than sufficient to get started. Note that you’ll also want some foam tiles to practice driving on… but you don’t have to order them from VEX. You can find very similar foam tiles at hardware stores. One or two sets of tiles should be sufficient to get started.

7) Once you’ve got a robot that can move and manipulate a game piece, you might want to contact a nearby school with a full VEX playing field. In the past Gladstone, Cambie and Moscrop have all been more than happy to welcome visitors. Contact the teachers at these schools for more information… it will be a great experience for your students! (And you’ll have fun, too.)




June 22, 2011

Jason’s “No-Fun” Guide to Uncrating the Cortex Classroom Lab Kit

Filed under: Uncategorized — dtengineering @ 11:58 pm

The VEX Cortex Classroom Lab kit is the kit I recommend to most teachers wanting to get started with VEX. Add in a copy of EasyC V4 (or a ten seat lab pack if you’re planning to expand beyond one or two robots) and you’re ready to start building some pretty cool robots. You’ll need a few extra parts, some omniwheels, and a few extra motors (maybe a couple of high strength motors?) to build a full-on competition robot, but you can choose those specific parts as you develop your design for the competition. The classroom lab kit, however, forms a great place to start.

There are a few things to watch for when opening a classroom lab kit, and a few things you can do now — easily — that will pay off in the long run. There are also a few common mis-steps, and… as of this writing… some glitches in the manual. So here’s my tips on how to uncrate your Cortex lab kit as efficiently as possible.

UPDATE: The glitches that I mentioned have been fixed. If you are building the “Protobot” or “Tumbler” please read the latest version of the Protobot/Tumbler build instructions. They have been updated with Cortex specific assembly instructions, including using the new two-wire motors and speed controllers.

Step 1: Where are you going to put all this stuff?

There are a LOT of parts packed into that lab pack. If you have a nice, tidy, storage system in advance of the uncrating, then you will put everything into a nice tidy arrangment. At the high end of the line is the Stanley Fat Max, but pretty much any 18″ long toolbox with multiple compartments will be a good start. When I taught at David Thompson each team got one of these hefty beasts. They were heavy, but the fold out compartments were fabulous. No matter how good the toolbox is, however, it won’t be enough to handle all the tiny little parts. My favorite parts boxes cost a little bit more than the cheap ones that have the adjustable dividers, but I find it is worth it as the little dividers inevitably fail, and you end up having a hard time keeping your parts organized. Check out your local hardware store for a solution that you’ll be comfortable with. Having one tool box and one parts organizer ready to go when you open your robot kit will save you time in the long run.

Step 2: How are you going to label all this stuff?

Every VEX part looks like every other VEX part. Your joystick looks exactly the same as the other school’s joystick… your VEXNet keys are identical… and students get them mixed up with each other’s stuff very easily. My adult post-secondary students demonstrated this to me when they took their new robots to an event and came home with extra vex net keys but missing joysticks. It was very sad. Now all our electronic parts… joysticks, batteries, VEXnet keys, chargers… all that expensive stuff that is easy to misplace is labelled. If you’ve got an engraver, that is great… but most VEX people are pretty honest. They won’t pull off labels or erase them… they really do want to get your parts back to you if you leave them at an event. If you want to get really fancy, label and number each of the major parts so you can keep track of them within your classroom. “BCIT 1” is marked on the joystick that goes with the Cortex labelled “BCIT 1”. At least label the electronic parts as they come out of the box, and you’ll be happier. In fact proper labelling is so important that we are considering adding a rule to tech inspection at BC events next year REQUIRING all teams to have their joystick, batteries and VEXnet keys labelled for easy identification. Label makers, engravers, paint pens, sharpies… even just pen on a piece of tape will save you a lot of hassle at some future point. Now enjoy this annoying animated .gif showing how I uncrate a Cortex kit….

Step 3: Open the box!

I know… you immediately skipped over points one and two and have already started pulling things out of the box, haven’t you? That’s okay… I did it too… and after you’ve opened many VEX kits you’ll come to see why I’ve put steps one and two ahead of opening the box. The first order of business after labelling the components should be to put your new batteries on to charge. You are going to be wanting them later.

Take the time to identify your parts, and pay particular attention to the motors and speed controllers. They are new and not described in the manual on how to build the protobot or tumbler projects. The new motors are an improvement, but it will take a while for the manuals to catch up. (The manuals have caught up… see the “Update” above, for the link.) For now, just plug the “two-wire” motors into a speed controller, and then plug them in to the Cortex. They will behave just like the old “three wire” motors did. There are also two special motor ports on the Cortex that you can plug a two-wire motor into directly. This is because there are already two speed controllers built in to the Cortex… see how port 1 and port 10 are different? There is more information on this in chapter 7 of the manual. You may as well read it now… the batteries are charging anyways.

Step 4: Build a Robot

Either the protobot or tumbler are a great starting point. Just remember that your batteries, motors and microcontroller are a little bit different. If you want a Cortex specific model to build, you can check out Carnegie Mellon University’s pages.

Step 5: Pair the Joystick and Cortex

Did you notice the sheet of paper labelled “important”? Many of my students don’t. Then they wonder why the robot doesn’t work. Once your batteries are charged follow the instructions and you will unite your Joystick and Cortex controller so that they will only communicate with each other. (Should you need to match the joystick up with a different controller later, you just repeat the procedure with the new controller.)

Step 5: Try It Out!

Remove the USB cable and insert a VEXNet Key in the Cortex and one in the Joystick. Turn the robot and joystick on. Wait patiently while the LEDs blink. If they all go green, you’re good to go. If your robot doesn’t go, perhaps you need to try plugging the speed controllers in to a different port. Try a few different combinations and you’ll figure it out quickly enough. If you aren’t getting green lights on your Cortex and Joystick, check out the manual, particularly page 8. There is also an outside chance that your school (or some malevolent force) is shutting down unrecognized wi-fi devices. If your school uses a Wireless Intrusion Prevention System, you need to go here, then talk to your IT support folks.

Step 6: Upgrade the Firmware on the Cortex and Joystick

You need to download the latest software updates for your Cortex and Joystick. There should be a .pdf file included in the .zip file that you download that should walk you through this process. Note that for Cortex-specific instructions you jump ahead to page 6 and begin at option “C”. You may need to repeat step five following the upgrade, and if you jumped ahead to step 7 and downloaded your own code, you’ll have to download it again… everything gets “zapped” when you do a firmware upgrade.

Step 7: Get Programming

You can download a trial copy of EasyC here… but it is only good for seven days. If you have purchased an EasyC CD, you can use the code on the CD to validate your downloaded copy, thus ensuring that you have the latest, most up-to-date version of EasyC available. There is a section on programming in your manual, and plenty of assistance available through the VEX Forums.

Step 8: Regret Having Not Followed Step 1 and Step 2

Yeah, right. Like you actually followed that advice to store everything carefully and label all the “easily lost” bits. Now you’re wondering where all the collars have gone, why you can’t find a “motor screw” to save your life, and how you ended up with two Cortex batteries, but are missing a VexNet key. I suppose there are worse problems to have….

June 6, 2011

VEX Workshops for Teachers: Spring 2011

Filed under: education,high school,robotics,robots,teaching,Tech Ed,Vancouver,VEX — dtengineering @ 2:54 pm

For the third consecutive year the Pacific Youth Robotics Society (PYRS) is pleased to present VEX workshops for teachers. This year, thanks to partnership with the BC Year of Science Initiative and our partners in Courtenay and Summerland we are able to offer more opportunities for teachers to learn about VEX and how competitive robotics can benefit their students.

The workshops will introduce teachers to robot design, sensors and programming using the VEX Robotics system and highlight design challenges arising from this year’s VEX game, Gateway. The instructors will be Todd Ablett, who has built the Gladstone Secondary robotics program into the largest and most successful high school robotics program in Western Canada, and Jason Brett, an eight year veteran of robotics competitions and instructor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. The workshops are interactive and hands-on.

The time, place, and cost of the workshops are:


Gladstone Secondary School
Electronics Shop
Thursday, June 23 and Friday, June 24, 2011
9:00 – 3:30


Summerland Secondary
Monday, June 27 and Tuesday, June 28, 2011
9:00 – 3:30

Workshop Fees and the “Professional Learning Package”

Fees are payable at the beginning of the workshop by cheque in Canadian funds made out to:

Pacific Youth Robotics Society
2528 East 8th Avenue
Vancouver, BC
V5M 1W2

There are three fee options (all prices include HST):

$75     Basic Workshop Package
You are expected to bring your own robot and programming software, or make arrangements in advance to share with another participant.
$175   Basic Workshop Package plus Robot Rental
You will have use of a robot kit for the two-day long workshop. You may share this robot with up to one other individual.
$1,000 Professional Learning Package
You will leave the workshop with a complete VEX Cortex robot kit, manuals and software to continue experimenting and designing over the summer. There are sufficient additional motors and parts included to form the basis of a competitive VEX robot for use during the competition season so you can gain a deeper understanding of robotics as your students experience the thrill of robotics competition. Thanks to the strong Canadian dollar and excellent pricing from iDesign solutions we are able to include the robot, workshop, manuals, shipping, and programming software for the lowest price ever. Note that due to shipping requirements we need confirmation of your intent to purchase the Professional Learning Package by June 10th. Please let us know if you are interested, but cannot meet that deadline.


Registration is now closed for both workshops. Thank you to all our particpants for making these workshops an ongoing success!

Thank you also to our sponsors at:

Also in Vancouver on the Weekend of the Workshop….

Filed under: Uncategorized — dtengineering @ 10:28 am

Coming to Vancouver for the VEX Workshop… why not check out the following events ocurring on the weekend:

The American Society for Engineering Education is hosting their annual conference in Vancouver. ASEE has a strong K-12 education component and are hosting a FREE (if you register by June 10) workshop for high school teachers on Saturday, the 25th.

If you are familiar with MAKE magazine, you’ll know you will want to check out the first Vancouver Mini-Maker Faire, happening all weekend.

If you’re coming to the Summerland workshop and can’t figure out why you might want to spend a few extra days in the Okanagan… well… you need more help than my suggestions will ever be able to provide.

Two Great VEX Videos

Filed under: Uncategorized — dtengineering @ 8:37 am

If you haven’t seen them already, I really like this one, made by BCIT media students at the BC VEX Robotics Championships in March of 2010:

And this one, describing the new VEX game, Gateway:

March 30, 2011

Tethered Mini Sumo Robots

For years now I have been building tethered mini-sumo robots with my junior secondary students.  The robots are a fun way to discuss traction, torque, power, gear ratios, and a raft of other important engineering concepts that all actually come into play in a final competition.  The video on this page represents one of my earlier classes to build the robots, and since then we’ve added a few more rules to make the final projects look a bit better.  For instance I now ban exposed batteries and weights, and limit tape to being used for electrical insulation only.  I also use a piece of welding rod to support the tether wire, as you can see in the very slick looking robot with the rounded front in the video.  We’ve also upgraded to cast polyurethane tires, which give much better coefficients of friction than these store-bought tires do.  The key rule for all mini-sumo robots is that they have to measure less than 100mm long and 100mm wide in their starting position and weigh less than 500g.  To ensure a fair competition in my class, all students start out using a Tamiya Dual Motor Gearbox or a Twin Motor Gearbox.  For more details on where I source materials, and how I implement the project, check out my Tethered Mini Sumo lesson plans and Mini Sumo Design Tips

In the event the video does not show up, try this link:

Mini Sumos can be a lot of fun… give them a try!

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