The students on my team (Team 811) have had a pretty productive week. After two long days and four long evenings of meetings, we have a robot design. The amazing thing about this fact is that it’s about 10 days earlier than any previous year in our team’s history.
Applying a variant of a standard engineering design process, we started by analyzing the game, in order to determine what we need the robot to do. From here we created a list of potential strategies that for playing the game, and the students broke into groups to delve into the pros and cons for each strategy. In the end, we decided on four strategies: a bot that could score in the center goal, score in the lower goals, gather balls effectively from the floor, and play a good game of defense.
With these strategies in mind, we brainstormed on individual robot concepts to achieve them. After a few hours and 115 concepts, we categorized the concepts into functional groups. From here, each student voted on their favorite four concepts, and the functional groups that these concepts belonged to were charted. These groups were then analyzed to see how effectively they meshed with the previously agreed to strategies. This whittled the list of concepts down to about a dozen.
Last night the students practiced "forced relationships", where they actively mated pairs of concepts to see which worked best together. These pairings were discussed at length, and then the process was repeated to create proposed whole robot ideas. In the end, we had a pair of whole robot ideas (the vote was a tie), so this weekend we will work to create proof-of-concept prototypes. By Sunday, we should know which idea to pursue with gusto.
The best part of this whole process is that the students are doing almost all of the design, with the adults acting as true mentors. We’re the facilitators, they’re the brains. It is a welcomed change from how things have gone in the past, and the proof of the pudding is that we’re way ahead of schedules. This year’s team looks very, very strong.