We qualified for state! So now what? That’s a fairly simple question to answer – take it all apart, and improve.
Following our close win at Winthrop, team CougarBots has been taking a bit of a break from the stress of practice and won’t convene again until after Christmas. I of course don’t want to see my team slip back though – we still have a lot of work to do and after discussing some ideas with Danny, I have a pretty good idea on what we hope to accomplish before state.
First and foremost, we absolutely MUST solidify the connections of all the wires and cables between the battery, motor controllers, NXT, and the Samantha module. We have had issue with this in the past, and it almost cost us the competition at Winthrop. In fact I will maintain that we lost at state last year because of this issue. I’m hoping to resolve this issue by making shelves on the inside of the robot that the motor controllers and battery can be mounted on. I’m also hoping to use both sides of the robot instead of mounting everything on one side. We may have to use longer wires to accomplish this, but it will also make the robot more evenly weighted for lifting.
The second thing we hope to fix is the stability of the arm when scoring blocks. Currently, the arm is supported by a single aluminum bar which holds the rack and pinion system as well as the bucket for scoring the blocks. Danny and I feel that adding an additional bar to the arm will help to support the arm and give the bucket more stability. Not only would this help to improve the overall scoring accuracy, but it would help to prevent wear and tear on each individual arm. It would also reduce stress on the arm and gear axles and would help to keep the robot centered during hanging. For these reasons, I feel that adding a second arm would help the existing arm immensely.
Another issue we’re hoping to resolve is the over complicated design of the bucket which carries the blocks. Right now, the box is made of several sheets of steel, varying in thickness, and a few Tetrix pieces that attach the bucket to the arm and the spinner motor to the bucket. The chain that runs the spinner is unprotected and the entire box design is crude. I’m hoping to design a new box made of either Lexan polycarbonate or a lighter weight metal. Ideally, the box would be made of one solid sheet which would then be bent to the shape needed to fit the current box specs. I would also like to have the spinner chain protected in some way by a guard made of the same material. One advantage to using Lexan would be that it would be much easier to see how many blocks were in the bucket given that Lexan is transparent. It’s also much lighter weight than the steel we currently have. The one down side is that it’s obviously not nearly as strong as the steel, despite the fact that it’s an incredibly durable material. This will clearly be essential to the hook design of the box for hanging. as of yet, we haven’t decided what material we plan to use for the new box, but in order to meet all of these qualities it seems that only an incredibly strong polycarbonate would do. Titanium would fit most of these specifications, but would obviously not be transparent.
Lastly, we’re hoping to alter the way we hang the robot by hanging the robot with the rack and pinion system instead of the worm gears. In order to do this we will need to refabricate the rack and the pinion in steel. This will prove to be a difficult task as we are unsure who would be able to do this for us. My first guess would be Intermec, but that’s only a guess. The even more hazy issue is whether or not the motor will be able to lift the robot that way on its own. If not, we may have to move the motor that is currently lower on the arm up to the rack and pinion system. Another thought is to power the rack and pinion system with a single motor and a giant servo. We have heard little about the giant servo from other teams but online it appears to be much more similar to the standard DC motor than to a servo motor. This could prove to really help the power in our arm and help us to hang and score blocks much easier.
In addition to robot changes, there are many other changes I’m hoping to have my team accomplish before the state competition. First off, I would like to create a new website for both Kennedy teams to share. Instead of having the website created on a free site where it has a crazy long web address, I’m hoping to have a much more original name. This should also help us to create a more professional looking site with more ability to add video and pictures of the team. This will help us to promote our image and will be much more presentable to the school.
We will obviously also have to redo the poster board we display at our booth with new information and pictures. But to make it more presentable, I want to have the board created much further in advance and with more care than it has been in the past. No more glue stains, no more peeling edges, and instead of everything being flat, we can add some foam backing to make certain bits of information literally pop out.
Before we will be able to get the website up and running, we will need to do some fund raising. To buy a website address and keep the service, it should cost us between $300 and $500 for a ten year package. Given that the team will exist for more than ten years, I feel it is most cost efficient to buy the longest package and get the best deal. Our account is getting low on funds despite the smaller donations we have gotten from parents and small businesses. We have yet to search out our sponsors from last year, and given that we have just gotten our bid to state, I’m hoping they will gladly renew the sponsorship s from last year. This will help us not only in buying the website but also in buying more parts and more tools for constructing more competitive robots. With two teams this year, we should also receive more credit from said local businesses by showing that we are a growing and thriving investment. In addition to these merits, we have already designed and distributed a business plan/sponsor letter that we plan to give to our potential sponsors. Having already given them to the judges at competition, we have received a lot of positive feedback.
I’m hoping that these changes will help us to not only perform at our best at the state competition, but also help us to win a few awards in the process and maybe even send one of our teams to super regionals.