When I was growing up, I had the privilege of spending great amounts of time in the summer with my grandparents. My grandfather, who had dedicated his life to science, and I suspect rarely had his head out of the books as a kid, was both always tinkering with one complicated science project or another, and worrying about my future, apparently, offering lots of random and unusual advice, it seemed. Learn to like football, was one sage tidbit, because otherwise, you’ll never find a husband. His biggest piece of advice though, very well-worn, was “Don’t be afraid to be the geek.”
He had no patience for ‘cool’ and didn’t want me or my siblings to be sucked into peer pressure. He involved us in science projects and, sigh, long lectures on scientific and historical things that seemed, well, long. As I’ve grown older and watched the ‘geeks’ and ‘nerds’ of our contemporary culture grow into hip billionaires, I know my grandfather was most surely onto something that I now find myself drumming into my own kids.
These days we all know that technogeek is the new cool, and it’s risen to unforeseen, inestimable heights as we watch a wide range of young startup geniuses clad in hightops and jeans take over the world.
The RoboSpartans have a clue, and embrace the ‘techie’ or ‘geek’ label with pride. Rightly so, as their talents have turned them into winners. Their efforts in robotics have led them to great achievements already. Hailing from three different area schools in New Hartford, NY, they are part of a program being sponsored by 3D Systems, Cubify, Coca-Cola, and will.i.am, collaborating with the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), which encourages robotics projects and challenges within the educational system.
Competing at the University of Scranton against 72 other teams of excellence spanning the eastern coast, the RoboSpartans put their robot’s best feet forward to win one of the 24 invitations to the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) World Championship in St. Louis, being held later in April. Showing off their robot, Leonidas, the RoboSpartans were thrilled to find that with their simple robot kit they won the PTC Design Award, geared toward robotics — and awarded due to the simplicity and unique qualities of Leonidas.
The students, moving full speed ahead in a STEAM curriculum (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics), enjoy being able to combine artistic flair with their engineering and technical prowess. Leonidas is not only an impressive display of robotics created by the students but is also a symbol of their team spirit, with many 3D printed parts looking like the team’s trademark helmet, in reference to the dead Spartan King with a skull and helmet theme.
A ‘cut brush’ is found on Leonidas’ 3D printed parts as well, another symbol of their team, which the students thought helped the robot stand out further. They were unique with their color scheme and also created a lighting system so Leonidas transforms from a red to blue hue depending on their alliance at any particular competition.
“We started looking at our robot as being something more animated and sculpture-like rather than a bunch of metal parts. I really like art and engineering, so it’s been nice to bring the two together,” said Ryan Payne, team lead designer and builder.
Leonidas is also constructed with multiple common materials found from their local hardware/supply store, as well as customized, 3D printed parts from another one of the team’s sponsors, Cubify. The students are well-aware of the magic of marketing too and have a full campaign going for their robot from replicas and pins, to fans bearing his face. Their ‘pit’ is decorated in the Spartan style, and they even have a team fan page.
“We refused to think inside the box or outside the box. We just tossed out the whole box idea,” said team member Daniel Michaels.
With the rules for the contest stating allowed dimensions of 8” x 18” maximum space, many of the teams found their way around the size limit by adding extensions and other workarounds. As the RoboSpartans became more experienced, they evolved their robotics project to a modular design, allowing parts to be removed or changed.
“Last season we saw a wheel fall off during a match when judges were standing right in front of us. We were determined not to have that ever happen again,” said team member Gwyneth LaMarche. “We also took the time this season to make our robot look as good as it performs.”
The RoboSpartans, the proud owners of many trophies, wear their badges of honor well in the technogeek kingdom, and they are a team diversified in their activities. Besides just building their robotics projects, they also each offer up more than 200 hours of community and volunteer service, mentoring, and displaying the robotics they’ve created. As an interesting side note, they are also all involved in martial arts, attending the American Martial Arts Institute in New Hartford.
3D Systems, Coca-Cola, and will.i.am have been behind a drive seeing that FIRST teams in middle schools and high schools nationwide receive a first-of-its-kind EKOCYCLE Cube 3D printer, which is uniquely exciting — and groundbreaking — in that it uses recycled plastic as printer cartridges. Currently, more than 1640 teams have received printers, and are using them to ‘think outside the bot.’
We’ll certainly be wishing them the best for the First Tech Challenge World Championship in St. Louis, as well as their prospects for heading into the next season. Have you been engaged in using your 3D printer for building any robotics, or involved in student or post-graduate studies involving robotics? Share with us in the Leonidas the 3D Printed Robot forum thread over at 3DPB.com.