A mole

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This video is from my nephew Alex.  At 10, he’ll be starting full time at California State University, L.A. in the fall.

So proud…

Check out all of Alex and Sophie’s videos here and buy their book!

19. Winners!!

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The DigiPen Students won the district event at Shorewood High School.  A lot of work and a highly talented team made all the difference in making this a year to remember.

Congratulations to all of you and best of luck in the coming year.


18. Robotics Club February 1, 2014

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IMG_20140201_170604Today marked a milestone in our progress: The first motorized movement of our robot chassis.  Several of the students got a feel for the controls using two joy-sticks coupled to the laptop that interfaced with the robot.


We finally got our parts kit on Thursday and there has been a great  deal of progress since then.

There are still many open design questions regarding autonomous portion of the competition (The robot figuring out what to do on its own) and for the actual mechanism for getting the ball and scoring points.

17. Robotics Club January 18, 2014

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We still don’t have our KoP so everyone divided up into sub-group (Brian calls them “fire teams”) to further plan and develop the design of the robot.

Brian started us off with a brief video covering the electronics of the robot and then asked the electronics fire team to begin planning the layout of components.  The programming group met separately (shown in the foreground of the picture) and quickly built a scale mock-up of the field, a white-box of the robot and included all the physics and controls to move the robot around the field.  At the upper right you can see L& E’ s own Ian, Bobby and Ian’s dad working on a team logo.   Our team also worked on dismantling last year’s bot so that we could have all the parts available for the electronics team to do the layout.

The KoP should be here early next week and we can begin construction in earnest. Bobby has signed up to be a part of the chassis assembly team so he’ll have a lot to contribute once the parts arrive.

Some of the DigiPen students have created a team blog site similar to this one at https://firstrobotics.digipen.edu/ .  You are invited to contribute ideas, observations and thoughts about the project on this site.


Want to know more:






16. Robotics Club January 11, 2014

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We had our first organizing meeting of robotics club today and it was an amazing success.  The students not only organized themselves into sub-teams, they also discussed strategy,  design and the ordering of some more parts.

L&E was represented by Bobby (shown at the far left of the picture) who will be participating in the chassis construction team.  The full roster of teams are:

  • Team Website: Josh Grey, Spencer Albin, Tucker Sneed
  • Team CAD: Brian Wang, Tucker Sneed, Kristen Kim
  • Team Software: Kelly, Gabe Neumann, Matthew Hewitt, Daniel Assumpcao, Back Street Boy (Jason Carroll) 
  • Manufacturing Teams
    • Chassis/Drive Train: Bobby Gillman, Braxton Eidam, Evan Kline
    • Electrical/Pneumatic: Andrew Klimentyev, Josh Yan, Daniel Assumpcao, Sam Reinhart
    • Defense/Security/Block: Braxton Eidam, Josh Yan
    • Roller/Pick-up: Jared Nakahara, Jason Carroll

In addition there was heated discussion about the overall design of the robot.  It was quickly decided that our robot would not put anything in the air and would focus on blocking the opposing team’s scores and achieving points by pushing the ball into one of the corner goals.


The basic plan calls for lowering a cross-bar over the ball and then activating a couple of motor-driven wheels at the top of a cross bar long enough to lift the ball off the floor.

The cross-bar would pivot from the center of the robot in order to allow it to capture balls from the back or the front of the robot.

There was a lot of discussion about having 8 or 6 wheels and which should be powered.  The club decided that there should be 6 wheels for better traction when blocking opponents and that they should only be 4″ to allow as much room as possible in the robot’s chassis.

The Kit of Parts (KoP) should be arriving soon and we can begin actual construction.

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15. FIRST kick-off 1/4/2014

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NASA brdcst (1)

The Washington FIRST robotics competition (FRC) was officially launched this morning with the nation-wide broadcast by NASA of the design of the game and an overview of the rules.  We met in the gym of the Montlake Terrace High School where they announced that our region now has 879 teams competing in this year’s competition.

Simultaneously, the rules for this years competition were made available.  This year’s competition is called “Arial Assist” and comprises moving a 2′ diameter ball between 3 team’s robots (The Alliances will be formed at random during the event) and placing the ball through either a low target (1 point) or a high target (10 points) at either end of a 54′ x 25′ court.


We were then randomly dispersed into class rooms at the High School where we brainstormed ideas for the competition.  My session seemed to focus most on interpretations of the rules and the possible strategies you could use based on these constraints.

Others were more technically based and still others that I heard about from our team members focused more on veterans of FRC competitions comparing this competition to previous ones.

These breakouts lasted until about 11:00 and then it was time for teams to get assistance in actually building their kits.  Unfortunately we did not get our parts kit today so we took over a class room to strategize and organize a bit.


Our coach Brian Tugade (in the hat) has been in these competitions before and a few of the team were in his class last year.  This is an advantage that many teams do not have and should help ease the process.

We decided that each team member should spend the time between now and next Saturday familiarizing themselves with the rules and thinking of ideas for the competition.  We’ll meet again at DigiPen next Saturday to put our ideas together and begin the design process.  It will be very important to have ALL the L&E students present at that Saturday afternoon meeting.

Want to know more:


2014 FIRST Kickoff Broadcast is available on Youtube at the FRCTeamsGlobal channel.

Be sure to check out the technical documents section of the usfirst.org site


14. Programming in robotics: Logic

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In class, Evan introduced some of the basics of programming with you.  We began with some simple commands for our BOE-BOT using the BASIC STAMP editor we downloaded from Parallax.  The editor used some simple statements like “PULSEOUT” to control external devices from the microprocessor but we spent most of our time typing things like “FOR”, “NEXT”, “PAUSE” and “END” to describe activities internal to the microprocessor.  The manufacturer has built it’s own little decoder to transform these commands into the machine language that uses pointers, registers and stacks to carry out these instructions but they accomplish the same thing in the same way:  They depend on a strict sequence of actions.  We call the rules that constrain and dictate this strict ordering of commands “Programming”.

Most programming begins with a description of the objective of the code.  This isn’t always as easy as it sounds and when you’re trying to concisely describe how your robot will throw something at a target you’ll struggle with this.  It’s not hard to describe the action and you may even describe a sequence of steps necessary to accomplish it, but unless you think about the sequence with the programming language (the constraints and dictates of the language) you may not be able to implement it.  This problem is common to most technological endeavors you will encounter in your career:  How to best integrate the hardware and software of a project.

One tool that programmer’s often use is a logic diagram.  This uses symbols for “IF”, “SET” etc. that can easily be changed into the programming language, but allow the programmer to visualize the sequential flow of the program to it’s outcome.  Let’s take the example of our first program using the Parallax Homework board in which we lit a red led.

flowchartThe hardware (circuit on the prototyping board) and the program that made it work couldn’t have been simpler.  But look at all the information in the program that the hardware designer might never have thought of :

  • How long should the led be lit up?
  • How long a pause should we have between lightings?
  • How many times should the light be lit up?

By putting together the sequence of events that the microprocessor must do in the accomplishment of the task, the hardware and the software can interact and adjust to make sure the device under development does what its supposed to.



Turns on an LED on for 300 ms then shuts it off for 300 ms 50 times

// Pin 13 has an LED connected on most Arduino boards.
// give it a name:
int led = 13;

// Set up the counter:

int counter = 0

// the setup routine runs once when you press reset:
void setup() {
// initialize the digital pin as an output.
pinMode(led, OUTPUT);

// the loop routine runs 50 times:
void loop() {

For (counter = 1; counter = 50; counter++)
digitalWrite(led, HIGH);   // turn the LED on (HIGH is the voltage level)
delay(300);               // wait for 300 ms
digitalWrite(led, LOW);    // turn the LED off by making the voltage LOW
delay(300);               // wait for 300 ms

The code for the Arduino looks different from the BOE-BOT because the BOE-BOT replicates commands written in the language called BASIC and the Arduino has copied command structures that look like the commands in the language called C++.  They both translate into roughly the same machine code for pushing and popping bits onto stacks, but the language it’s programmed in looks different.





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