NASA TETRIX Projects

Week 2

Day 9: Friday, 7/15

by on Jul.15, 2011, under Week 2

Today we had our demos for LEGO/TI people (educators and business men/women), who had come to Tufts to discuss the use of the TI Nspire in classrooms.  We used the opportunity of them being here to show our projects, but also to mention some complaints about Tetrix, as one of the Tetrix developers, Andrew, was actually there as well.  From 9:30 to noon, before the demos, we made finishing touches on the powerpoints and finalized the robots.  The Axel Rover had it’s wheel’s redone, from flat bars attached to the large gear, to smaller gears attached to the large gear.  This provided smoother motion and made the wheels large enough to turn without the middle axle hitting the ground:

Right before the demonstrations started, we found out we weren’t going to do powerpoint presentations.  In the end, the presentations went very well as the people we were presenting to seemed genuinely interested and understood what we were saying.  We pointed out our complaints with the TETRIX system: That the one 7/64″ allen wrench that is provided is not enough since it is used so often, that the pieces bend easily even under light pressure, that some screws are improperly machined so that the nut won’t fit on unless forced (with non-provided pliers/nut driver), that some curved pieces would be nice, that pieces with an even amount of connection ports (4 rather than 3, or 6 rather than 5) would be useful, that there should be a variety of axle lengths, and that Servo cables should have a “+” or some kind of sign to show which way is up when inserting them into the Servo controller.  Also, Andrew gave us a personal demo of the TI Nspire, which blew my mind, as I’ve been using a TI 83 for 8 years now.  The Nspire is basically a SAT-legal laptop/calculator hybrid.  At this point, I don’t see how people actually need to learn math for the SAT, they just need to learn this calculator.  My favorite features of the Nspire is not the 10 million things you can do with it, but rather the fact that it has a backlight, (I’m surprised it took so long to add a backlight), is in color, and has a full keyboard (rather than an alpha button activated keyboard).


After those demos we ate pizza and socialized.  Then we did another demo, this time to the other CEEO employees; college interns working on various LEGO projects.  Following our demos, they showed us what they are working on; curricula ideas for LEGO, such as a robotic ice cream making assembly line and robotic puppets, firmware updates for Labview, interactive playground equipment, Arduino-LEGO interfaces, a TETRIX scooter and TETRIX tricycle riding robot, etc.  Other past and ongoing CEEO projects were also shown, such as a LEGO CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine, a TETRIX Mill, and Mike Mogenson‘s camera controlled quadcopter.

Ben’s TETRIX Mill AR Drone Ball Tracking

After all that, we came back to the Botlab to drop our gear off and headed to the field behind Bromfield-Pearson (the math building) to play some frisbee with Morgan (who’s incredibly good), as we missed the normal game with the CEEO employees.  The final hour we reviewed what happened that day, I gave a game plan for next week, and finally I let the students do what they wanted as the hectic week concluded. -Nicolas

Daily Thoughts:

Dean: Presenting to the tetrix people allowed us to give our opinions on the system which in the long run would be useful to others.  We also presented to the other students working at the CEEO and they showed us their projects.   They are fairly complicated and interesting.

Lawrence: The first thing I did today when I came in is look at the NASA Axel Rover and I did my best to think of a solution to the problem we ran into with the wheels. After a few experiments I finally thought of the idea to put gears on top of the gear to make the wheels bigger so that the wheels will be big enough so that the rover can actually move when you put it on the ground. The only problem with this idea that I came up with was that the screws that were necessary for the wheels were not located in the Tetrix kit so I had to achieve other screws and bolts that worked for this occasion. Also later today we presented our projects to the owners of Tetrix and Lego mindstorms. The presentation went relatively well because this time we could actually run our rover on the ground because I switched the wheels before the presentation. After the presentation we played Frisbee with Morgan because all the other CEEO members already played and then we had pizza.

Jess: In the morning, we found out that all of the work we had done the previous afternoon on advancing our powerpoints into less kiddy, more professional presentations was completely unnecessary, as we wouldn’t even have to use powerpoints to present to the people from Lego and TI. It was significantly easier presenting to adults than to children, and the burritos and pizza afterward were pretty tasty.

Briyana: We just presented our robots to the LEGO people and gave them constructive criticism to improve the next model of TETRIXÒ.

Sarah: We showed people the working version of our robots. We also told them some problems with the TETRIX system like how the pieces are easily bendable. They also ate all of the good burritos.

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Day 8: Thursday, 7/14

by on Jul.14, 2011, under Week 2

Today we had our demos, at the Dr. Albert F. Argenziano School.  We left the Botlab at 9:30 and started our first demo at 10am.  We did our demos for two classrooms, each demo was an hour long and identical (the students responses were not).  We first started by introducing ourselves then Morgan explained why we were demoing.  Next, I gave a brief powerpoint introduction on NASA science, robotics, and rovers in particular.  We asked the students if they had any background on NASA/robotics, of which a few did, but most didn’t.  Following the science intro each pair of high school students presented their project idea.  Jess and Lawrence started with a powerpoint explaining more about their Axel Rover project and moved on to showing the Rover moving and finally talking about future plans.  Next, Briyana and Sarah talked about their Carrier robot, mentioning what it does and what their future plans were.  Following a short powerpoint, they demonstrated the ultrasonic detector by driving the robot on a table and having it stop when the ultrasonic detector saw the edge of the table (since the distance would increase beyond a certain threshold value). Finally, Dean and I introduced the iPad controller idea with a powerpoint.  We gave our reasons for doing our project, our inspiration, and potential GUIs (graphical user interfaces).  We then demonstrated a very simple iPad controller on the tank that Dean had built.  In the first classroom, a few students were snickering, but all in all they were responsive and seemed generally interested.  In the second classroom, the majority of the students seemed less interested, except for two boys sitting in the front row who wanted to answer every question and looked super interested.  After finishing our demos to the students we returned to the Botlab, after having lunch.  Morgan came up to me and mentioned we’d be doing demos to some TI (Texas Instrument) and LEGO business men/women, so we should be prepared.  We made our powerpoints more professional and less middle-school like as well as making a modifications to the bots.

By the end of the day, we were for the most part ready for the demos tomorrow.
-Nicolas


Daily Thoughts:

Dean: Visiting middle schoolers: Interesting to work with middle schoolers.  Tank got most of attention, lol.

Lawrence: Today we had our demo’s for the middle students. It was very successful the only problem my group ran in to was that the wheels were too small for the body of the robot and the children wanted to see it run so in order to run it we had to pick it up first because it didn’t work. Then we had to explain to them why.

Jess: Demos went pretty well. The first class of kids seemed reasonably excited about what we brought in (as excited as I could have hoped for, anyhow). They liked things like the tank and our Axel rover, and were willing to participate in group sessions where they could contribute ideas to us. The second class was a bit more difficult, since very few of them spoke English very well. In hindsight, 80% of them couldn’t understand the presentation we gave, which makes it make sense that none of them really looked at all interested or even minimally affected. In the smaller group portion, I  was able to communicate with a few of them in Spanish and basically answer their questions, if they would speak slowly enough.

Briyana: Went to the middle school and gave a presentation of our robots and power points and gave a demonstration and answered any questions they had. Then later on we modified our power points for the LEGO people, for the following day. Also we finished putting our final adjustments to the robots before we start the redesigning process.

Sarah: The middle school students gave us a lot of ideas for our robot. Halfway through the day a piece of one of our motors fell off, so the wheel would not turn.

The middle school students gave us a lot of ideas for our robot. Halfway through the day a piece of one of our motors fell off, so the wheel would not turn.
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Day 7: Wednesday, 7/13

by on Jul.13, 2011, under Week 2

Today was the last day before demos; we finalized and practiced our powerpoints, created a survey for the students to fill in, came up with questions to ask the kids, and finished construction.  Some of the programming was shody, but worked.  For example, the iPad program was just simple left, right, forward, and back buttons.  However, when we switched from Morgan’s personal iPad to a CEEO iPad, the server connection required to run the program became buggy and only the left and forward buttons worked.  Eventually, we made a Labview program that had an interactive front panel, to show the movement of the tank (forward, back, left, right) and the movement of the turret (left/right and up/down).


The Axel Rover had issues with wheels, as the provided gears in the kits did not have a diameter large enough to spin the robot without the battery pack hitting the ground.  The current solution is to attach flat bars to the end of the wheels.

The crater detecting robot works, however the DC motors are so fast that sometimes by the time the crater (the edge of the table) has been detected and the robot has braked, the robot has already fallen off the table.  When the speed is reduced (the motors are running at constant power, so reducing the speed means reducing the power), the motors became too weak to move the robot.

Daily Thoughts:

Dean: Tank: finished product: YEAH! Worked on powerpoint

Lawrence: This day started off with making the PowerPoint presentation which actually didn’t take that long but then we reviewed it so that we would look well when we presented it to the middle school students. Also we presented to Morgan today so we could have his thoughts on our presentation.

Jess: Writing the powerpoint up was pretty simple. Making some reasonable probing questions were somewhat difficult to come up with, since it was slightly hard to remember what the comprehension/vocabulary level of middle schoolers is, and we weren’t really sure how good their English speaking skills (we’re going to an ESL school tomorrow) were.

Briyana: Worked more on the powerpoint and questions.  Robot would fall off table if power was too high and wouldn’t drive if too low.

Sarah: I was extremely happy when the crater-detecting robot worked; although when the power was turned down we had to give it a nudge to get it started.

Writing the powerpoint up was pretty simple. Making some reasonable probing questions were somewhat difficult to come up with, since it was slightly hard to remember what the comprehension/vocabulary level of middle schoolers is, and we weren’t really sure how good their English speaking skills (we’re going to an ESL school tomorrow) were.
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Day 6: Tuesday, 7/12

by on Jul.12, 2011, under Week 2

Today was and tomorrow will be preparation for our demos to middle school students on Thursday.  Today we wrote up our power point presentations; written so that middle schoolers can understand it.  Also, we further developed and began to construct our demos.  Dean and I dropped the Space Elevator/Lunar Orbiter idea as the TETRIX robot, requiring a heavy 12V battery pack, would be too heavy and unwieldy to climb a rope.  Instead, we decided to create an iPad controller for the other two robots, one that would ultimately control nine independent robots.  For the demo, we created sample GUIs (graphical user interfaces), and Dean, who had been working on a TETRIX tank, decided we should control that tank with the iPad.


Daily Thoughts:

Dean: Prepare Tank for Demo.  Worked on powerpoint -> wanted to work on Tank.

Lawrence: Today for my group was mainly just thinking how we can finish our robot and make it better. The whole day we pretty much spent all of our time building. Today was a fun but stressful day because with our prototype of the NASA Axel Rover was difficult to make out of Tetrix because a lot of pieces that were necessary for our prototype were not located in the Tetrix kit so we had to find ways around these conflicts. At the end of this day we had pretty much finished our prototype but the huge problem was that the wheels were not big enough for our robot. :(

Jess: It was on this day that I searched NASA rovers on youtube and came across the Nasa Axel Rover. It seemed pretty cool and interesting, so that was the idea we decided to take and replicate with Tetrix for the middle school audience. After doing a bit of research on the rover, we started to mock it up in a very prototypic way. This was the first time I had actually tried to build something complete out of solely Tetrix. We ran into a lot of problems with construction, mainly since the motor mounts don’t have holes the properly match up when placed perpendicular to the majority of pieces, and since the biggest wheels/gears were far too small.

Briyana: Mostly just made a power point for the middle school students.

Sarah: All that our robot did at this point was detect craters, although I hadn’t yet written a code for that to work. So Morgan gave us the idea to make (in a future version) the robot able to hold smaller robots inside of it that it could deploy at specific times. That way the middle school students could participate and create small LEGO robots to put inside of the big one.

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Day 5: Monday, 7/11

by on Jul.11, 2011, under Week 2


Today we spent the majority of the day working on Labview programming, since we figured out how to get the DC motors and Servos running.  We realized that the NXT to RCX cables (attached to long RCX cables and then back again to NXT) that we’d been using were preventing the DC motors/servos from working.  Upon using pure NXT cables, they started working again.  We wrote a variety of code; code to test DC motors, code to test servo motors, code to test NXT motors.  A sample code, btns_DC, is shown below.  The code turns on the DC motors corresponding to the buttons pressed on the NXT brick: left button = left turn, right button = right turn, orange button = go forward.  We attempted to create a switch to reverse motion by using the left and right arrow simultaneously, but the buttons became glitchy.  Testing this code was frustrating because sometimes the NXT became buggy and the buttons stopped working; in order to fix this one would need to restart the NXT (but distinguishing between when the code was broken and when the NXT was broken was annoying).



Daily Thoughts:

Dean: Worked on TANK

Lawrence: This day wasn’t a very exciting day it was more on the boring side but that’s because all I did was mainly more programming so that I could learn more about it. The buttons code Nick had mainly made but I just finished it for him so that I could eventually make the code myself. It was just for learning per purposes.

Jess: I spent this day working on my walking robot some more. It had been pretty lame and broken when I left it for the weekend, so I fixed it up. I mostly just experimented with the Legos and Tetrix and Labview.

Sarah: Today I focused on basic programming of TETRIX motors.

This day wasn’t a very exciting day it was more on the boring side but that’s because all I did was mainly more programming so that I could learn more about it. The buttons code Nick had mainly made but I just finished it for him so that I could eventually make the code myself. It was just for learning per purposes
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