Robots: Try, try again


Here is what I love about robots:

  • They take incredible amounts of interdisciplinary engineering skills.
  • They almost never quite work like you expect.
  • They take  perseverance.  A LOT of perseverance.

In summary, they are not for the easily discouraged.  Or if you want to teach about how to overcome/handle failure, robots are perfect.  Our first robot competition last year, did not go so well.  It was a good lesson for Caleb in setting expectations for how difficult robots are.  We had a long talk about failure, and what we should do with those feelings.  It’s easy to quit, but you can also use those feelings to drive yourselves to try better next time.

Mid-summer, we formed another team and entered the World Robot Olympiad competition.  Caleb, Joey, and Jackson have been working for about 8 weeks on building a robot that can detect the color of lego blocks, push them to a certain location, and dispense ping pong balls.

Unless you’ve actually try to put together a working robot, it’s difficult to understand what it feels like to make a robot.  Mostly, the feeling is frustration.  Sometimes, it’s deep, desperate frustration.  Sometimes, it’s laugh-at-yourself frustration.   And, there are glimpses of hope and celebration, but those moments are few and far between.

I spent half a day today with the kids as they were putting together their video entry for the competition.  A few minutes after we had started, my wife asked me, “Are you guys done?”  

It occurred to me then, that she has no idea what it means to work with robots.  We were not done.  We have not even really begun at that point… My phone is chock full of video footage of failed attempts from throughout the day.  I put it all together in an 8 minute video, that hopefully captures the feelings and experience of working with robots.  I thought the video might be a little bit long, but Tenille started watching it, and ended up watching the entire thing.

Overall, a rewarding experience.  I got to reminisce about my old mechanical engineering days.  Caleb and I watched a bunch of old MIT 2.70 (now called 2.007) contest videos.  I saw many of my old professors (who looked quite young in some of the older videos).  Dr. Woodie Flowers who I had for my design class started the First Lego League, which Caleb will be participating in this Fall.

These kids may not grow up to be engineers, but I’m sure they’re going to run into frustrating challenges throughout their lives.  Hopefully, they’ll be able to grit their teeth and persevere through… just like with the robots.

Nice job, Caleb, Joey, and Jackson.



Here is our actual submission
Here’s what it took to get there…


Some old MIT 2.70/2.007 videos:

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