Building a Robotic Assistant at STEM Summer Camp
Written by Loxley Browne
Our second year of FABcamp was in the planning stages and the Student Advisory Board and I gathered to think about a transportation project that we could create as our FABrication project for FABcamp. What to create became the daily topic in all of our conversations. As a friend and I were replacing a transmission in an F150, I realized a need for an extra set of hands in the shop. Combining that thought with the idea that our member, Tanisi, had for creating a piece of equipment that would clean up the street in downtown areas, I realize that the theme this year would need to involve robotics.
Alerted to an international pitch competition based out of Switzerland, I immediately signed up our team. The pressure had just intensified! Not only did our team need to prepare for FABcamp, but we now had to go from concept to working prototype within 40 days while also preparing and practicing our pitch. We would be presenting to over 700 international investors!
“I was able to learn that it was okay to shift gears if things aren’t going the way I had originally planned.”
–Akshaya, 2021 FABricator
Three big speed bumps we faced:
We’re building a robot, something none of us had expertise in creating.
We have 40 days to take a concept and turn it into a working prototype.
School is still in session, so we can only work on weekends.
It was an intense 40 days! Not only were we stymied by creating the “working brains” of a robot, but we also had to build the body. Our idea became creating a box that contained the brains on movable tracks with a topper that could be exchanged, depending upon the work that you needed to do.
We did our market research and polled hundreds of end users, talked to parents, elderly friends, students,mechanics…
In the end, we created two toppers. One for the shop based on input from mechanics, and a second topper for use in the house based on pain points we had gathered from parents, grandparents, and those with short-term or long-term disabilities. HomeBottie became our robot’s name and we focused on creating the home-use version of our robot for the pitch competition.
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We chose to conceptualize our model in two formats – a CAD drawing and a cardboard model. Taking it from 2D to 3D helped the whole team, newbies to the inventing world, how the needed structure and moving parts would fit together.
How to use power tools along with shop safety became the focus as our team gathered together on weekends to start turning our ideas into reality. Girls who had never touched a power tool, nor thought that they would, had the biggest smiles from watching the sparks fly when using a circular saw to power through a metal tube.
Knowing nothing about robots and what it takes to make the brain work with all of the different elements that are combined, our team was at a great disadvantage. We relied on the help of a local robotics teacher and student at the Francis Parker School.
“There were a few times when we had to undo something we built because we had done it wrong, it felt like double the work at the time, but I was able to learn patience from that, and it was a great way to use more tools that I had never used before!”
–Akshaya, 2021 FABricator
The morning of the Pitch arrived, which happened to be the first day of FABcamp, so I was juggling with impressive talent. Both Mihika and Akshaya were there to present for the three-minute pitch. We pulled it off!
While we did not win the $30,000 prize, we were the investor’s favorite! This was one of those moments when I had to point out to our team that winning is not always the most important thing. As we all progress along our entrepreneurial path being the favorite can open up more doors to investments and more money in the long term.
Our goal with this project was to spin it out as a for-profit company that would benefit our nonprofit. We still have big plans to eventually bring this to market. We hope to see someone in your family building a HomeBottie in the future. You’ll be able to think back on how far our Athenians have come!
The best lesson in all of our summer STEM camp projects that our Athenians are learning skills, becoming leaders and experiencing entrepreneurship as teenagers. Just imagine how they will help to change the world for the better as adults.
Just remember… keep following along with us because we do FABulous projects!
At FABcamp 2021 I learned a lot of life and mechanical skills that I still use 2 years later!
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Kick back in our vintage t-shirt and share your team pride! A great Sunday Funday shirt 🙂
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