FIRST Robotics Competition – 2013 Portland Regional – Team 3711

Our team, The Iron Mustangs (#3711), competed in the Portland Regional for the last two years and returned champions. This year we came in third. Given that this is also our third year participating in FIRST, I’d say that we’ve had a good run so far. In fact, the season isn’t over yet. We are still planning to compete in the Ellensburg Regional starting on 20 March 2013.

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Ultimate Ascent

The organizers of the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) decided to a throw a curve ball this year. All FRC games involve an autonomous period, followed by a tele-op (remote control) period. The end of the tele-op period requires that the students [Read more…]

FRC Team 3711 Robot Autonomous Demo for 2013

I just got home after another busy weekend of working on our robot in preparation for Ultimate Ascent, this year’s challenge. This was the final weekend of the 2013 build season for the FIRST Robotics Competition and I am convinced we’ll be fielding a great competitor this year. The video below shows off our autonomous mode, fully tweaked and dialed in. After I filmed the video I learned that we do have two additional days left before we’re required to crate up the robot. This is fortunate since we still have to finish the climbing mechanism and fine tune a few unpolished bits of code.

FRC Team 3711 Disc Launcher Demo

Whew, what a weekend of progress on our FRC robot! I think between myself and my student, we put in about 30 hours over the last two days. As of right now, we’re caught up with programming everything on the robot, but we still need to add code to drive the lift mechanism when it gets bolted on in a few days. This year we’re using C++ for programming so the entire process is much easier now compared with Labview. I shot a video at the end of the day to demo what we’ve accomplished:

[Read more…]

Infrared Makes a Great Presentation Aid

Hawk in winter imaged with a thermal camera

After I finished speaking about engineering I brought out one of my company’s gyro-stabilized camera gimbals. This one, in particular, has both an optical and false-color FLIR Photon infrared camera. The gimbal is able to autonomously track objects while they move and while the gimbal itself is perturbed by wind and other disturbances. The students thought that was incredibly cool as I tracked their movements using the optical camera. Then I turned out the lights and switched to infrared mode. My audience lit up like a Christmas tree under infrared and I was greeted with a resounding “cool…!” I had one of the students put her hand against a wall for a few seconds and the camera picked up the hand-shaped residual heat signature. I also had one student walk around the room trying to escape the gimbal’s gaze. He was successful but not immediately!

I have given presentations about engineering and technology to grade-school and high school students in the past and I enjoy it every time. I think I made a few converts on this run!

Glympse for iPhone – Share Your Location with Friends

Glympse is an app that uses the iPhone’s internal GPS to transmit coordinate information to a website allowing others to track your position on a map. While this sounds like it could be a stalker’s dream app, the idea behind Glympse is that the user can send a “glympse” to an email address or as an SMS text message, inviting only those the user trusts to view their location – and then only for a set time period the user controls. Right now I’m using it to track my wife’s progress as she drives home from Portland in the rain. The app updates her position on the map every 10 seconds or so, giving me a glimpse of her location and speed (so I know she’s safe). Think of this as a peace-of-mind app, and its free no less (at least for now).

Highly Recommended:

New iPhone 3GS (well not new but new to me)

Not that I can see the screen or anything, but I’m now the proud owner of a new 3gs. I was having coffee with my wife at Starbucks this morning when we decided to go next door to the AT&T store and see about fixing her dying cell phone. She had been wanting an iPhone to blog and tweet on the go and we both were aware AT&T had a current  $50 iPhone 3GS promo. We walked in thinking we’d fix her phone and walked out with a pair of new 3GSs. I was teased by my friends in the past for still clinging to my first gen iPhone and I now understand why. Now if I can get figure out how to get my apps transferred…


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FIRST Team 3711 Robot Basketball Dunk

Logo motion piece

She would not let go of this thing!

I’ve spent the past few weekends mentoring a FIRST team at our local high school. FIRST is an international competition aimed at inspiring high school students to consider a career in science or engineering by exposing them to the engineering process from design to functional prototype. Every year the rules of the competition change with the common element being the use of an autonomous/teleoperated robot working cooperatively with other robots to achieve a goal. All FIRST teams are given the rules of the game in early January and are given only six weeks to design, build, program and ship their robot. This year the game is Logo Motion.

For a rookie team, I think we are well on our way to fielding a compeitive robot. We set a goal to have our robot dunk a basket at the final game of the season in order to demonstrate the arm and claw mechanism we designed. During the actual competition our robot’s arm will be used to manipulate and place the inner tubes to score points in the game. As you can see from the video we set and met our goal – Team 3711 for the win!

Internet Explorer

IE is the work of Beelzebub. No support for semi-transparent PNGs. Not standards compliant. Bugged. Slow. Ugh… This browser is an epic pile of suck. Please download Firefox or Opera if you use Windows.

W3 keeps track of browser statistics at this site: According to the data, IE accounts for 35.3% of browsers on the web. In fact, IE6, the bane of all web developers has almost 10% of the browser market. WTF?! Are these people too lazy to go to Mozilla and click download? I just don’t understand.

::rant off::

Installing Leopard on a G4 from an Intel Mac over Firewire

LRH uses a Powerbook G4 running Tiger. For various reasons we both wanted to upgrade her Powerbook to Leopard and last night was my first attempt. It turned out to be an exercise in frustration and stupidity. Frustration for 3-4 hours lost on the project and stupidity for not realizing why it didn’t work the first time.

Usually, installing an OS on a computer is a straightforward process, especially with a Mac. However, we had the unfortunate added complication of a defective CD drive, so the install media had to be remotely mounted and used.

1st Attempt:

  1. Connected G4 Powerbook to Intel Macbook Pro with a firewire cable and booted the G4 Powerbook into target disk mode. Note that target disk mode is a way of turning a Mac into a giant external hard drive.
  2. Booted the Macbook Pro from the Leopard install DVD and formatted the remote drive on the Powerbook G4 to GPT. Installed Leopard.
  3. Reboot the G4 Powerbook only to find a welcome screen consisting of two buttons displaying a curved arrow and a right-pointing arrow respectively.

It turns out that the open firmware on the G4 does not understand the GPT partition structure used by Intel-based macs.  Booting from Intel hardware invoked this method of installation that required GPT to be used before the OS could be installed.

What I Should Have Done:

While it should be possible to install Leopard by booting from the Macbook Pro a much easier solution is to just make the Macbook Pro appear as a disk on the Powerbook.

Booting the Macbook Pro into Target Disk Mode should make its DVD drive show up as a bootable drive on the Powerbook and the install should happen with the correct hardware being identified so the older partition structure will be used.