Road to the Robot

When building a robot, many steps are used in the planning process to ensure the outcome is a sound design that can accomplish everything we want to do. A widely used strategy is the design process.

The first step is to clearly define the problem or the challenge. The team’s overall challenge is to create a robot which completes tasks to score points and win tournaments. The design team’s goal is to create an electronic version of the robot to which the builders can base their measurements.

The next step is to conduct research. Everybody knows the line “Don’t reinvent the wheel,” and robotics is no different. Of course, we can modify the wheel, but there is no point in starting from scratch. The team makes sure to analyze all solutions which already exist to minimize the amount of work required. New ideas often require large amounts of prototyping and testing, but who doesn’t love a challenge.

After the team has researched as much as humanly possible, it is finally time to start coming up with ideas on what the robot should look like. Right after the game is revealed, everybody is sent into isolation to make sure nobody’s ideas are intoxicated but someone else’s.

On a team of more than 40 team members, it is essential that the best possible solution is chosen to end up with the best possible robot. After individuals have brainstormed on their own for some time, they are grouped into small packs of 5 and present their ideas to each other. The small groups decide on what they want to present to the whole team and team members get to vote on the ones they like the most. This process usually takes anywhere from 1 – 4 days. During the whole process, senior team members and mentors have veto power because they know what is achievable and possible in the time available.

Once the team has made a decision on what to build, the idea must be tested and prototyped to ensure it will work on the robot. The worst possible feeling is realizing that an idea does not work once 4 weeks of work have been put into it and it is mounted on the robot. In a build season of 6 weeks, it is essential that the least amount of time be spent on ideas that will not be used. In past years, the team lingered on ideas that ended up being scrapped and in the end, it was a waste of time that could have been spent on building the parts that did end on the robot.

All of these steps can proceed in any order as the design process is non-linear and some steps must be revised as others are completed. Some examples of this are when brainstorming, someone comes up with an idea that was not explored before and more research must be done to try and find anything that is similar and can be improved.

The design team follows this process rigorously and it helps to keep brainstorming organized. This year, some of the brainstormings were put on the designers themselves, so the team had a little more freedom while drawing.

When creating drawings, it is important to think of how the part will be made once it makes it off the computer into real life. If the part is floating in space on the computer, it will probably not be floating once it is on the robot. A designer must pay attention to all of the small details and make sure that the builders don’t get any headaches over how something is going to fit together.

The design process is an important part of robotics, it is the backbone of designing the robot, and isn’t that all that matters?

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