Gas station without pumps

2012 May 7

Kids on Campus

Filed under: Robotics — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 12:25
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Our local community college each year has a number of programs for kids (some for kids as young as 10 years old:  Kids on Campus – Cabrillo College Extension.

My son has outgrown these courses, and his 4 weeks of theater summer camp will make it difficult for him to register for any of the regular Cabrillo college courses.  He did take one of them several years ago: a Lego Robotics course using Logo and the old Lego Dacta serial interface board.  The same course appears to be offered this summer, with the same teacher.  Neither he nor I can remember now whether he had one week or two of using the serial interface—he does not even remember programming in Logo for controlling Lego motors.  I thought at the time that it was a pretty good course, and a nice variant on the mainly visual programming languages then available for Lego robotics.  (He has used a couple of those languages and NQC for programming Lego robots, though now he does most of his robotics programming in C++ on the Arduino, with Python and PySerial to communicate from a laptop.)

So far as I know, UCSC has not attempted to do much with education for children, other than the Seymour Center at the Long Marine Lab and the COSMOS program for high schoolers (which I discussed in a blog post about improving the science fair participation by high schoolers).  There are a lot of summer camps for kids on the UCSC campus, but most of these are from 3rd-party providers (like most campuses, they try to get money out of the dorms on a year-round basis).

2012 May 5

Busy week(s)

My son and I have just finished a busy week, and he has another busy week coming up.

Last weekend (April 28 & 29) he had 3 performances of a “Fringe Show” with his teen acting class. The Fringe show consisted of 13 pieces selected or written by the students.  He was in three pieces: a deadpan rendition of “Sexy and I know it” as if it were an academic lecture (which some audience members told me was the funniest piece in the show), the father in Shel Silverstein’s The Best Daddy (which he also directed), and a non-speaking role as a hallucination in a short play written by one of the other students [Correction: he also had an off-stage voice part in that play].  This performance was just one week after an improv show that he (and several of the other cast members) was also in, so he’s been pretty busy with theater lately. I don’t have pictures from the shows up on his theater page yet—I’ve not had time to select, crop, and edit them.

The fringe show was unusual in that the cast on stage had six male and six female actors—locally there are usually far more girls interested in acting than boys, so the gender parity was notable for its rarity. It was also one of the best teen shows I’ve seen (though West Performing Arts has put on several good teen productions).

Right after the Sunday matinée, we had to hurry home to get a ride to the airport, to fly to Los Angeles for the California State Science Fair.  I already blogged about CSSF this year, and I don’t have much to add.  We missed the awards ceremony on Tuesday, but competition was stiff enough in his category that he didn’t get an award this year anyway.

The reason that we missed the awards ceremony was that we had to catch a plane to Oregon, to join his dramatic literature class’s trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.  I’ll do a separate post on the workshops, plays, and other activities later, when I’m more awake.  Suffice it to say that Wednesday through Friday we had 4 workshops, 4 plays, 4 “prologues”, a couple of meetings with actors, and the 8–9-hour bus ride home.

Today, we caught up a little on sleep in the morning, then spent 3 hours with the robotics club at the Simpkins Swim Center trying to get the underwater ROV to work, because the regional MATE competition is next week.  Tomorrow will be another robotics club meeting, for “dry dock” work on the ROV.  I also have to empty about half my garage, so that the garage door can have its hardware replaced on Wednesday.

Next week he has a return to Spanish class (catching up on the missed week), a meeting with the consultant teacher, 2 AP tests (Calculus BC and Physics C:Mechanics), the last meeting of his dramatic literature class, his home-school physics class, and the MATE underwater ROV competition. I’ll be doing the meeting with the consultant teacher, the physics AP exam, the physics class, and coaching the ROV team, plus an oral exam for a grad student and perhaps a couple of other meetings.

After that, things calm down a little, with him having just Spanish, physics, and finishing up the writing assignments for the dramatic literature class, and me being able to get back to my research.

2012 April 13

Busy weekend coming up

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 15:36
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There is a very busy weekend coming up 2012 April 21–22.  There is no way that we can do all the things that we might want to that weekend.  Here are a few of the things that appear on my calendar:

  • Robogames all weekend in San Mateo.  In addition to the well-known “combot” robot fights, there are lots of other design competitions (soccer, stair climbing, robo sumo, weight lifting, …)
  • Stanford Splash: “Hundreds of volunteer Stanford students and community members get together for a single weekend to teach anything they want to students from all over California.”  It looks like they have a couple hundred classes in 9 different fields:
    Mathematics and Computer Science Physical Science
    Biological and Medical Science Life Skills
    Writing, Literature, and Language Social Science
    Hobbies Visual and Performing Arts
  • Dinosaur Prom Improv. This is the teen troupe my son performs with. They have a show about every 6 weeks at the Broadway Playhouse. Their show is 6pm on Sunday 22 April.
  • Santa Cruz Robotics Club.  This is the team of 10th and 8th grade students I’m coaching for the MATE underwater remotely operated vehicle competition. They are doing some real robotics: putting in feedback loops for control of depth, pitch, and heading, with an Arduino in a dry box on the vehicle.  The club meets in my living room (which looks more like a basement workshop at the moment)—they’re getting close to deadline, so I don’t think that we can skip a meeting.

2012 March 10

Mechatronics demo at UCSC

Filed under: Robotics — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:15
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I just got the announcement for one of the fun events for this time of year:

Come see tired and haggard engineering students who have not slept or showered in weeks! (Oh yeah, and their robots.)

What: CMPE118 Mechatronics Public Presentation
Where: Baskin Engineering 101 (Auditorium), UCSC
When: Wednesday, 14-Mar-2012, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM

The Mechatronics class is having their public demonstration of their final design lab, Slugs of the Caribbean 2012, Wednesday 14-Mar-2012 at 7:00 PM in Baskin Engineering 101.

The task requires the ‘droids to navigate a field to get to the enemy’s island and return to their own, while shooting at the enemy with ping pong balls. The ‘droids will run against each other on the field. We will run the competition in a round robin format to see which robot reigns supreme.

The public is invited (you might have to duck a few ping-pong balls) and the teams will be on hand to explain their designs to one and all. Come see what these students have accomplished in 10 weeks and cheer on the competition.

The flyer
The project specs

Feel free to forward this to any and all that might be interested, children (future engineers) especially welcome.

I got to the mechatronics demo almost every year.  My son won’t be able to go this year, since it conflicts with his theater class, but I encourage others whose schedules permit to come.

2012 January 30

Magnetometer and accelerometer read simultaneously

In Learning to Use I2C and Magnetometer not fried, I talked about interfacing the MAG3110 magnetometer and MQA8452Q accelerometer to an Arduino.  For both, I’m using breakout boards from Sparkfun Electronics.

I  checked today that there are no problems when I connect both devices to the same I2C bus.

The first test was very simple: I put both the breakout boards into a breadboard and wired them together, then tried running each of the programs I’d written for the chips separately. Result: no problems—worked first time.

I then tried merging the programs (cleaning up any naming conflicts) so that both could be run from the same code.  After a few typo fixes, this also worked fine

I think I’m now ready to hand over the software to the students to use for their robot.

I still need to put the i2c.h, i2c.cpp, and accel_magnet code in some public place for others to use (perhaps on github? maybe on my web pages at work?) [UPDATE 2012-jan-31: I have put the libraries and the sample code for the accelerometer and magnetometer at]

One thing that is still missing is doing tilt correction for the compass heading.  Since the ROV is not expected to remain level (the accelerometer is intended to be used in a feedback loop to adjust the pitch, with anything from -90° to +90° being reasonable), getting a good compass heading requires rotating the magnetometer readings into the horizontal plane.  Only one of the students in the robotics club has had trigonometry or matrix math, so I’ll have to work with him to get him to figure out how to do the tilt correction. It may be simplest conceptually  to compute pitch and roll angles first, then rotate twice, rather than trying to do the whole tilt correction in one step (especially since the Arduino does not have matrix libraries).

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