On January 17, 2014, ten 6th graders from Granite Falls Middle School and their teacher were treated to a technical workshop at FCW. In November 2012, the teacher, Randy, toured FCW and talked to us about classes/workshops that could be used to help stimulate interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) for students in his class. He was particularly interested in a hands-on project and something that could be taken back to the school.
Several possibilities were discussed and Randy decided on trying to build several of the Eggbots – the open source art robot kit from EvilMadScientist.com. The kit as available was too expensive so, it was decided to try to re-design it as a less-expensive version. With Rich taking the lead, the mechanical portion was re-designed with three goals in mind: 1) make as many parts at FCW as possible, 2) make it easier to assemble, and 3) make it more robust. By simplifying some of the mechanical portions, all of the mechanical parts could be fabricated at FCW using the laser cutter and the machine shop. These modifications cut the price nearly in half. A donation of the stepper motors, cut the price again so that the final version was nearly 1/4 the cost of the original kit.
GFMS raised the money to build five units with 25 students. It was decided to split the class into a group of 10 students for the first workshop, building two of the bots, with the remaining 15 students building three units at a later workshop. The assembly of each unit was organized into separate sections so that each student contributed to the assembly.
The ten students arrived at 8AM on Jan. 17. Rich, Michelle and Randy assisted the students in the assembly, which took approximately two hours. The students were then given a quick introduction to Inkscape, an open-sourcce vector drawing package with extensions to drive the bot. The assembly was optimized for drawing on ping-pong balls using fine point Sharpie markers. After assembly, the students were given ping-pong balls and assisted in creating examples for testing. There were a few minor glitches, but each student got experience in creating and drawing text, logos, or smiley faces. After watching the bot draw, one of the students exclaimed, “Wow! We built that.”
Afterward, the students were allowed to watch the laser cutter cut out a set of mechanical parts for one of the bots. They ate lunch and left by 11:45. It was a fun day for those of us at FCW and an educational day for the students, since they got an introduction to CNC, fabrication, robotics and embedded control. All of the students want to come back for another project. We are looking forward to the second group sometime this Spring.
FCW has worked with schools previously, assisting both the robotics and drama clubs at South Caldwell High School but this has been the first actual class to use the facilities and the youngest group. We are hoping to work with several schools in Caldwell, Catawba, and Burke counties on projects and events.
This event was covered by both the Granite Falls Journal and the Lenoir News-Topic.