Saturday, December 13, 2008

2009 Control System

Southwest was able to get a head start with the new FRC control system last Wednesday and download a program to the cRIO for the first time. Hopefully we'll have the old robot with new control system tracking someone's T-shirt by this Tuesday.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

MN Splash!

Today was the annual MN Splash event at the U of M Anderson Hall. Team 2129 had two speakers, Rick Riddle for electronics and myself for LabVIEW. This is gearing up to be a great season, with 20 new MN teams and 2 MN regionals!

Copies of the presentations will be avaiable from the MN Regional website.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Eagan Mini-Regional

Our team had a great time at the Eagan Mini-Regional, we were able to demo The Chariot and Roller and check out everyone's designs. We made it to the semi-finals and ended in 7th place, narrowly missing the top 6 for finals.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Demo at Schedule PickUp

Today's demo went well, we had the Lego robot following lines and gave fliers to interested students.

The Roller was up and running for about 2 minutes before one sprocket started sliding. Then it went in circles for 2 hours before the other sprocket started sliding. To summarize: we need to buy better - and faster - sprockets (or thread some holes).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Southwest Robotics on MAKE TV!

We're gonna be on the intros for a new show on TPT called MAKE TV! You can see a preview at (needs QuickTime).

Thursday, July 31, 2008

An exciting month!

Hey everybody. This is Sam again. Sorry we haven't updated you on our summer awesome-ness, so this is what has happened recently:

Saturday, July 19th, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Peter Agre came to our robotics meeting at the Bakken! He knows Earl Bakken, and decided to come and visit the museum. The people in charge at the Bakken had little notice of his visit. He saw us working in the Bakken's workshop, and decided to visit. There also was a photographer for the Bakken's newsletter. He took many pictures of our team and our robot. Mr. Agre, being the cool person that he is, let the robot chase him around the room. That was funny! We were very excited to have Mr. Agre visit us so unexpectedly.

On the 22nd, we had a mini-tournament at Eagan High School. There were only 5 teams including us, so it was a very small event. It was only for fun, and instead of 3 teams on 3, we had 2 on 2. It was fun to see the other teams again, and to hang out. They fed us pizza, which made the day even better.

Now, we are preparing our robot for exposition at the Minnesota State Fair. We have to get the robot there by the 12th of August, so that leaves little time for tweaking and improving the designs and programs. However, I am confident that we will be ready for our grand public debut! We are also working on the Roller, our summer robot from last year. Our CAD person is modeling a standard base design to help us expedite the design process for the the build season.

That's about all that has happened in our robotics team for the last month, other than mundane building, improving and programming. Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Video Page!

Good news! Our website now has a video page! At the moment it's reasonably rough-cut, since all I had to go on was a list of videos. They're in reverse chronological order (or as near to it as I could determine), so new stuff will always be on top.

I know, I'm terribly late with this announcement. I should have been able to post it weeks ago. But such is life: Things take a lot longer than you expect, especially when other things interfere.

So go ahead and watch some videos of our robot. I didn't get too much material from this year, but last year has a full complement of videos from the build season and competition. Enjoy! I'll see about getting this year's videos up by September or October.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"We Make Robots!"

TPT is partnering with MAKE Magazine to create a new series about what people make. They were filming at The Bakken; after a hectic 45 minutes to get the robot's grabber working again we had the oppurtunity to say "We Make Robots!" 43 times in the boiling sun while the robot picked up the trackball (and dropped it behind itself).

The show is sheduled to start in January, and we might be part of the intro clips for every show!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Move to the Bakken

We managed to stay ahead of the rain today when we moved into The Bakken. Special thanks to Tammy and her parents who drove.

The Bakken has an excellent workspace and experienced mentors; working with them this summer will be a great opportunity. Our first meeting to familiarize everyone with the workspace and tools will be next Saturday.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Partnership with The Bakken?

"The Bakken is a center for education and learning that furthers the understanding of the history, cultural context, and applications of electricity and magnetism in the life sciences and their benefits to contemporary society."

This summer our team won't have access to the Southwest Wood Shop, but we might be able to work at the nearby workshop of The Bakken Museum and Library. This is an exciting new opportunity for our team.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Site Enhancements In Progress

This blog has been pretty quiet for a long while, but we're not asleep. We're still having regular meetings, planning things for next season, and learning new tools (example) that will hopefully help us build a better robot for the next regional.

More specifically to me and my job, though, there's been some development going on with the website. I'm working on some enhancements to existing features, cleaning up the code a bit, and streamlining a couple things behind the scenes. It's nothing too major -- and given the amount of development time I have it's surprising to me that I even got that much done -- but it's progress nonetheless.

Before launching everything, I have to test on our new server. And before that, I'd like to figure out a video page, which has been on hold for a long time. (Come to think of it, I'll probably get another email about it now, having reminded the rest of the team about that shortcoming.)

See, our website downtime last month prodded Mark to commission a dedicated server, built and installed by one of our mentors (Tim F.), where we can hopefully do more things, more easier and more better (common expression). There's a convenient database system installed now, along with a Web-based server administration panel that I can actually access because it's not a shared hosting account. So there's stuff to do there, as well.

Combined with being busy for much of the summer, I have a lot to do. My goal is to finish everything, tie up the loose ends, and launch on the new server before I leave home at the end of June. So there's stuff coming; it's just going to take several weeks. But it's in the pipeline, as they say.

Meanwhile, I'll see if I can get other people to post more frequent updates so this blog serves its intended purpose.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


One of our teammates, Malcolm, made a couple of videos about our team and posted them on YouTube:

2008 Season, and
A Tribute to Lisa, our former team coordinator.

Thank you so much, Malcolm! You truly did a great job.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Blog Issues Resolved

Sometime around April 29, this blog's DNS entry was mysteriously messed up and the site became inaccessible. It's working again now; sorry for any inconvenience. A simple email to our server admin (no, not me; I just make the site) got it fixed a couple days ago.

The main site was unaffected by the problem.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Website Downtime

Our website is currently returning 404 Not Found errors for everything. Mark and I apologize for the downtime - our hosting account is gratis from a team member's relative, and it hasn't been kept up apparently. We should be back to normal in a few days.

Update (08:24 04/11): We're back in business! Sorry for any inconvenience.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Congratulations to The Green Machine

Last weekend, The Green Machine, the team who started us, competed in the Minnesota FRC regional at the U of M. They won the Chairman's Award! For this, they deserve major congratulations. Now they are going on to the National Competition in Atlanta, GA for the third year in a row. Good luck Green Machine!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Milwaukee Competition

The 3-day Milwaukee competition ended last Saturday afternoon. Among the winners was Washburn Robotics, a team that we mentored. We did not make it to the final round - we were not picked by one of the top 8 teams. I think that we had a very good robot. What we didn't have was a good strategy - we lost a few games from penalties and poor decisions. We ended the first day of competition winning only one game and losing four. Something we hadn't expected was interference to our IR remote from lap-counters - we had to reprogram the robot's hybrid mode.

On Saturday, we came prepared. A little more planning went a long way. We performed well and won 2 games out of 3. In the end, these competitions involve a lot of luck - a box with wheels and an excellent driver can win just as easily as a durable, sophisticated robot. This system gives rookie teams a chance and is in the spirit of gracious professionalism. It places emphasis not on winning, but on growing as a team and learning together. And that is what we did.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


It was an adventurous bus ride. The most important question, of course: which fast food restaurant? The line was long at Subway, but a scary poster of Jerod gave Culver's butterburgers a fighting chance.
We got to the hotel around 9:30. Tonight sleep. . . tomorrow competition!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

We're getting closer!!!

I know I haven't blogged lately, so here's what's going on now. The Milwaukee tournament starts tomorrow!!! We are very excited for the opening ceremony tomorrow morning. Can't wait to see the other robots!!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

End of Build Season

The crate, with robot inside, was picked up by FedEx at 2:30 today. I'm very proud of our team, we had an amazing season. Last year our robot went to the semi-finals. This year's robot (the Bobcat) is faster, stronger, more durable, and better at scoring points. We went to two practice events and outperformed all the competition. There is a lot of luck involved and very high standards, but I know our robot will be very competitive in Milwaukee. Check out our upcoming page about the Bobcat for more information.

So we're done, right? Think again - the most exciting part hasn't even come. No matter how great of a robot we build, it still needs to perform at competition.

We still have two five-hour "Fix-It" windows. We need this time to create an improved hybrid mode. At competition, we are going to do some quick improvements on the drive system, including gearing up the sprockets and installing omniwheels. And don't forget the most important part of competition - scouting. We are going to have lots of fun in Milwaukee!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Week 6 Build Update

Friday night we finished installing a stronger cylinder (cylinders extend when air is pushed through them) that would pick up the trackball (this year's playing object, a 40" ball). At the time we were apprehensive; last year we finished the robot 2 weeks before ship date and needed the remaining time for improvements, this year we only finished 4 days in advance!

It was amazing to see our robot pick up that trackball the first time we tried! With very few modifications, we were in business. Today, we went to a practice competition hosted by Simley High Robotics. Our robot was able to complete all 4 tasks: knocking a ball off the overpass, herding/capturing the ball, lifting over the overpass, and placing on the overpass. Out of the 12 teams present, only our robot was able to successfully place a trackball on the overpass for the 12 point bonus.

All that remains is for our software engineers to fix the bugs in Hybrid Mode (at the beginning of the competition, robots are controlled semi-autonomously). On Monday we will go to another practice competition, then immediately pack the robot for shipment on Tuesday!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Week 5 Build Update

The robot is almost finished; we finished the gripper and bumpers today! The infrared sensor still needs to be installed. It will be used to recieve a limited set of commands from the "Robocoach" during the Hybrid mode. Our calculations on the amount of force needed to grip the Trackball were off, so we need to buy a larger pneumatic cylinder.

On Saturday and Monday we are going to practice competitions hosted by Simley High School & Eagan High School. This last week is the critical phase during which we modify our existing systems to make a robot that works in practice, not just theory!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Week 4 Build Update

Today we used the pneumatic cylinders to lift the arms 7' feet! Our robot is already capable of herding trackballs and knocking them off of the overpass, we've just got to finish our gripper. I'm confident that our robot will be finished before the ship date, it's just a matter of having enough time to perfect the design and debug!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Week 3 Build Update

We drove the robot for the first time yesterday, having 2 motors per side makes for a speedy robot, but we're still not satisfied - we plan to order new sprockets and give up some torque for extra speed!

The arm is almost done, our pneumatic storage tanks and cylinders arrived two days ago. We need to get some C-shafting so that we can build our gripper - having an arm won't do us much good if we can't pick up those huge trackballs.

The season is almost half way over - can we build a gripper and still have enough time to debug?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Week 2 Build Update

Our drive base and tower are finished - we need to build our gripper, and then the four-bar arm! This year's game features trackballs that are larger than the robot, so getting them into our possession is going to be one of the biggest challenges.

Our small electronics team is busy wiring a neat lay-out that fits all on one sheet of plexi (so it can be easily detached from the robot). The programmers are confident that the customizable drive code is working and a simple hybrid mode will keep us on track, the only question is whether we want to use sensors such as a gyro or accelerometer.

The 6-week build season is already a third over, but I think we are on track!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Team 2129 is Proud to Announce our New Sponsor: Discount Steel!

Today Discount Steel agreed to sponsor our team by giving us free aluminum. They also offered the use of their CNC machine and other tools!

Discount Steel is a leading provider of all metals. Customers can place orders of any size and get cut-to-size, quality materials fast. Thank you Discount Steel!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Week 1 Build Update

Brainstorming sub-groups each presented their ideas for this year's game on Monday night. In the end it came down to two choices: a light, fast robot with drop-down arms to herd the trackballs around the field, or a more complex robot that can lift the 40-inch, 10-pound trackballs to score bonus points.

Despite words of warning from the many veterans who met with disaster during their 2nd year when they thought, "We aren't rookies anymore, we can do it all!," our team decided to build a robot that can lift those jumbo trackballs. One of the stumbling blocks is our inexperience with CAD design; this year we must rely mostly on good old-fashioned graph paper. Exploring new engineering concepts (like pneumatics and an arm) is part of what makes FIRST such an amazing competition.

Not to say that winning isn't important to our team; if we put in enough time we can build this robot. We've ordered most of the parts we need and have an almost working drive base. We are a much stronger team this year (20+ new members!), much more organized, and armed with experience from this fall's build session. We are up to the challenge!

Our Founder, Lisa Riddle

We are sad to report that the founder of the Southwest Robotics Team, Lisa Riddle, passed away last week. In fall 2006, Lisa offered her help as adult team coordinator and coach the moment she heard a robotics team could be started at Southwest. Her continual optimism, confidence, and support taught students the life lessons of working in groups and the joys of making ideas become a reality. Now the Southwest Robotics Team will last for many years to come. We are dedicating this season to her.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

2008 FRC Kickoff

Our team was up early this Saturday morning, headed towards Coffman Union in preparation for the Minnesota Kickoff. After brownie bits and coffee, we were ready for the simulcast.

Messages about FIRST’s vision and gracious professionalism preceded the game animation. We also got Dean’s homework assignment – to get as much media coverage as possible. Our team is looking forward to the new challenge.

Finally, the game animation came. This year’s game has the standard 3 vs. 3 set-up, but there is very little defense; the arena is transformed into a track where robots race around carrying large balls to score points, and can shoot the balls over the rack for a bonus. The other variation in this year’s game is the replacement of autonomous mode with “hybrid” mode, where the 15 second beginning period isn’t entirely without feedback from the operators, but receives limited commands from the remote control of the team’s choice. For the entire video, see the NASA web cast.

The new Kit of Parts was picked up after the video and driven to my house (school was closed) where we took inventory. We are beginning the brainstorming process tomorrow, with sub-groups meeting tomorrow so everyone is ready to present their group’s idea on Monday.

We’re hoping unexpected designs can give us an unexpected advantage; it’s going to be an exciting season.