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The Lake Champlain Monster “Champbot”

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Burlington, VT

The Lake Champlain Monster “ChampBot”, by Dakota Braun

Dakota Braun, Homeschooled, Eighth Grader, Burlington, VT

EduBots welcomes our youngest contributor, 13-year-old Dakota Braun. Dakota is passionate about robotics and design. You could say that he grew up with robots, as his parents run an educational robotics program, R4-K2 in Burlington, Vermont. Dakota assists in teaching their after-school STEM program. Homeschooled, he is also mentored by local high school robotics teachers.

The Loch Ness Monster of North America is named “Champ,” after the waters of Lake Champlain where it is known to live. Sightings indicate that this long-necked Plesiosaur is roughly 35-feet long and enjoys swimming in the deepest waters of the lake. In the fall of 2014, the Champlain Mini Maker Faire put out a ChampBot Challenge for teams to build a remote-operated vehicle that resembles the lake’s legendary Champ.

EduBots.inddThis competition was held in a bay at Shelburne Farms in the town of Shelburne, Vermont. I was part of a team with five other students: Otis Starple-Murphy, Aren Trombley, Orin Goss, Slater Braun and Colt Braun, ages 7 to 12, who were working with advisors Christine and Kevin Braun from Robots For Kids Too in Burlington, Vermont (R4-K2 at www.R4K2@com).

The ROV had to be radio controlled, less than six feet long, and had to complete the 180-foot-long course in Lake Champlain, which started 20 feet from the shore. The ROV “Champ” had to zigzag through five buoys, shoot fire at a target, drop a buoy in a hoop, and then fully submerge. The judges issued points for each task completed and also for being the fastest ROV to complete the course.

Our ChampBot was constructed of easy-to-find items found at local stores. The exterior was constructed of PVC pipes. We used PVC because when sealed, the pipes hold air, which aids buoyancy, along with swim noodles, which kept Champ afloat. We used chicken wire to mold the head into the shape of Champ’s dinosaur head and added duct tape to look like skin and we attached a butane torch inside of his mouth to allow him to “breathe fire.”

EduBots.inddOur team attached a servo to hold a buoy with a flap of cardboard. When it got to the drop zone we would flip a switch on the receiver, making the servo move to release the buoy into the target. Lastly, we attached LEDs in his eye sockets and down the scales of his back to make him more fabulous. We were also planning on making him roar, but we could not get the sound loud enough for anyone to hear (unless they put their head in his mouth).

The inner main components of our ChampBot were housed inside of an 8×16 – inch plastic box. This box was installed in the exact middle of our bot, right between the front two flippers and the back two flippers. This was the heaviest part of the robot, weighing in at five pounds. It included the remote receiver, batteries, seven servos, and some sponges to suck up the water if it were to leak into the container. We also had a rubber seal around the box lid to ensure that the components stayed dry. Our ChampBot’s main propulsion was six bilge pumps that we hacked by removing the covering and the impeller, and then adding larger propellers. The bilge pumps were hardwired to mechanical switches that were triggered by the receiver. We broke one of the propellers when we were doing a demonstration at the Maker’s Faire which prevented it from fully submerging. We then decided to change the use of two motors needed to submerge the robot and turned them around, changed the propellers to a smaller size and used the motors to instead add speed to our robot.

The day of the race was cloudy and cold with 10 mph winds coming across the lake, creating small waves. There were several hundred people in the crowd. We had not fully tested our robot at this point and I honestly did not think we would make it out into the water to where the course began. I was worried our robot was going to sink due to the wind and waves. Our team carried Champ from the robot display area to the shoreline¾about 100 yards. Our ChampBot was one of six participants in the ChampBot Challenge. The teams helped each other climb down the rock wall to the shoreline, gently lowering the robots to waiting hands. When our turn arrived, we lit the butane torch on Champ and went into the water to help it past the shallow, rocky shore.EduBots.indd

Each team had two attempts at the course. On our first try the robot couldn’t drop the buoy. While the next team was driving their ROV, we duct-taped a rock to the trap door located under the ChampBot’s jaw. This modification made it so the buoy was dropped during the second round. We were the most maneuverable robot on the course, which helped with our time for the competition.

After the event was over, we had to wait for the judges’ decision. While we waited, we talked about the race over and over, wondering if we had scored enough points to win. At the end of the Maker’s Faire, the judges gave out awards to all the other teams. When they announced the winner, we had come in first, as our robot had won the most points, including being the fastest ROV on the water. As they handed us the trophy, the judges complimented our team for being the only one working with kids.

The 2015 ChampBot challenge was held on September 26th and 27th. We brought a new design to the challenge, knowing the challenge would be quite fierce. I’ll report to you about that competition in the next edition of EduBots.

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