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SolidWorks Sponsors Botball With 3D Software

The Botball Educational Robotics Program sponsors one of the largest robot competitions, with over 300 teams of from two to thirty students competing in annual competitions. This exciting robot competition has just received a turbo boost that will both empower participants and accelerate the expansion of the Botball community’s shared knowledgebase. SolidWorks has donated 3D design software to Botball for use in the 2007 competition

This will equip competitors with a sophisticated design and prototyping tool and will benefit the rapidly growing Botball community on a grass roots level. The significance of the SolidWorks-Botball partnership is best understood in light of the remarkable technology already in use by Botball competitors. We caught up with Jenny Grigsby, Public Outreach Coordinator for KISS Institute for Practical Robotics, to get the latest.A major draw for Botball participants is the Xport Botball Controller (XBC). Many other robotics programs and competitions use the RCX or NXT LEGO controller, Basic STAMP, Handy Board or other microcontrollers. Botball is the only program to use the XBC — and the unique XBC hardware sets it apart from the rest.  Students easily identify with a Game Boy Advance (GBA) controller that is used as the main microprocessor. ABOUT BOTBALL

  The Botball Educational Robotics Program was created by the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics, a nonprofit educational organization based in Oklahoma.

The goal of Botball and other educational outreach programs offered by the Institute is to improve the public’s understanding of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and to contribute to the enrichment of school systems, the community and the nation.

Leading engineering and science companies and institutions like the NASA Robotics Alliance Project, the Naval Research Laboratory, the National Science Foundation and Google are among those who believe in KISS Institute’s mission and who have provided funding.

Each year, teachers, students and robotics professionals from across the nation gather for the annual National Conference on Educational Robotics. Students and educators lead the way in exchanging ideas ranging from robotics curriculum integration to the technical aspects of robotics.

The conference features an impressive lineup of guest speakers and events. For more information, contact the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics, www.botball.org.

The Game Boy is a perfect fit because of its powerful ARM processor, color display, widespread availability and affordability. The XBC combines the GBA with a field programmable gate array (FPGA) that performs color segmentation from the robot’s camera, allowing frame rate object tracking of colored objects.The FPGA also performs “proportional-integral derivative” (PID) control of the robot’s motors using the motor’s back electromotive force (EMF), measured in volts, to close the loop. This yields position and speed control normally only found in industrial robots. All of these elements are addressable through the familiar (and cool) color interface of the Game Boy Advance.Botball robots are autonomous and are designed, built and programmed by students. To get participants started, Botball offers an intensive two-day training workshop in which a teacher (or mentor/adult team leader) and at least two students actually build and program a working robot using Interactive C. The course includes information on the Botball game objectives of the year and how to use Botball resources. After the workshop, the students have seven weeks to convert their official Botball kit into two original, autonomous robots for use in the competition. All teams are invited to compete in the national competition at the annual Botball conference (see About Botball sidebar) whatever their regional scores. Teams include middle and high school teachers and students, 4H groups, private school groups, boys and girls clubs and more. SOLIDWORKS DONATES 3D SOFTWAREThis year, SolidWorks is becoming a major additional sponsor of Botball. Every registered team will receive free software and licensing, and a free tutorial. SolidWorks is providing 6 – 9 month licenses to the students that will enable teams to build virtual robots to share with their teammates. In SolidWorks, they will be able to see how LEGO parts fit together as well as how arms, grippers, actuators and gears work. They will be able to see the pieces articulating and virtually test stresses, movement and other aspects of robot mechanics. Moreover, Botball engineers have designed this year’s competition using a full SolidWorks design package donated to the KISS Institute by SolidWorks.

Botball engineers have assembled a SolidWorks library of over 200 LEGO parts and pieces that will be available to all. This virtual library includes motors, sensors and other non-LEGO parts as well. As students around the nation design and build their robots, they will be able to upload their designs to the Botball Online Project Documentation Website.In the future, a publicly available knowledgebase of autonomous Botball robot designs will grow on the Botball website that will be useable by the next round of Botball designers. The powerful technology used in Botball competitions is thus being augmented by SolidWorks, which is not only a 3D design and prototyping tool, but also a means of developing and sharing robotics designs within the community.

This powerful STEM-oriented package will in effect turbo-charge the Botball competition regionally and nationally, and as such may well become a milestone in education-based robotics competition.

–Tom Atwood, toma@botmag.com


  Beyond Botball is a game distributed by KISS Institute for Practical Robotics to encourage ongoing robotics education beyond the high school level. College and university educators are encouraged to use the Beyond Botball game spec as a project in their science and engineering courses.

Botball team mentors, teachers (and parents) are encouraged to focus their own creative energies into a solution for Beyond Botball (let the kids build their own robots!). Some examples of how Beyond Botball has been used in college courses can be found in this AAAI Spring Symposium paper.

Dave Miller, a curriculum developer, created the game board as an eDrawing – a software application that you can download for free from www.solidworks.com and which can communicate with any type of common model format – even 2D DWG. Visit:


Beyond Botball College Courses,  www.botball.org/_files/2007/NCER/beyond.pdf Beyond Botball Overview www.botball.org/current-season/beyond_botball.php KISS Institute for Practical Robotics