Monday, October 11, 2010

My day with the combat robots

If someone had told me 5 years ago that I'd happily spend a Saturday watching robot battles, I'd have laughed and laughed.

It's all because of the kids, of course.  My children have exposed me to so many experiences I'd never have had without them.  The boy's robotics club was entering a robot in the local competition; he wanted us to go.  I went, somewhat reluctantly.  That's such a guy thing; I had better things to do, like watch "Pride and Prejudice" with my girlie.

But we went and boy was it fun.  And what a homeschooler's dream experience.

Combat robots come in many different sizes or weight classes.  There are cute little "ant weight" bots weighing less than a pound, and big ones (like ours) that weigh 30 pounds.  They have hammers, saws, and spikes.  The drivers stand outside a plexiglass box with their remote controls and set their 'bots to the task of destroying the opponent.

It's an electronic demolition derby.

This isn't one of our matches, just one that was short and active.

Parts fly. Sparks fly! Contestants are given instructions on what to do if their robot catches fire.That is not an outlandish concern. 

But here's the best part for the homeschool mom: the learning. They are learning so much! About electronics, of course. And materials: what kind of steel is best for this? Stronger but more brittle? Or a more malleable type so we can bend it a little and it won't shatter when hit?  

They're solving problems on the spot:  In their first match, our robot (a wedge-shape) got its front edge stuck under the bottom of the plexiglass box.  It couldn't move, and so ended their match.  But they had a second chance, so they used their waiting time to bend up the edge of that piece of steel ever so slightly, so it couldn't get stuck again.  They lost that second match anyway, after taking a hit so hard it shook the batteries loose. Another opportunity for improvement.

They are learning to use power tools. How to program. They're working in a team with a common goal. These are all  practical skills that translate into the real world, not just the world of combat robots.  And there's one more thing, related to the S word.

Combat robotics is a male world, to be sure.  Young adult male, mostly, but there were some middle-aged dads working their 'bots, too. No matter the age of the competitors, they compete as equals.  Each team has a table with all their stuff all over it.  It's a mess of screws, metal, batteries, fuses.  They walk around and talk, give advice, loan parts as needed.  It's competition at its friendliest. I suspect that the older gentlemen were particularly pleased to advise our team - the youngest of the bunch.

Also not our robot. We didn't get all those sparks.

We left our boy with his team after the second match, thinking that was the end for them. But they got a third try, which they also lost.  They came in third place... out of three contestants in their class.  But they were happy; they did better than last year - that robot never even moved.

I don't have many photos and I don't have permission to share them.   But imagine my favorite: our team standing with the team that beat them in their last match.  They are holding a mangled piece of metal; the opposing robot had "shredded it off," as my boy said.  Our team signed it and gave it to the victors for a souvenir.  They hope to meet again in the spring.  You can believe our boys will be working hard to improve their robot so they can have a better showing next time.

Would you have counted this as a school day?  I did.

What activities that you're involved in with your kids make you shake your head in disbelief?


Sandy said...

Listening to teenagers debate sex-education bills for passage in the state legislature was one such moment for me. Really could have done without hearing that. ;)

Kerri said...

Nothing that cool!

wayside wanderer said...

What fun! Probably TKD and seeing what a tough girl my baby is. She is scary!