The Last Taquito

Skill Spotting Sunday: Tim can place a piece of chex mix on his foot, kick it up into the air, and catch it in his mouth. We never said we weren’t a multi-talented bunch.

edited to add: Tim is not the only one with superior eating ability. I managed to get it on the first try. However, the experiment did not have adequate repeatability.

Hannah, Liam, and Benjin were all doing a practice exercise attempting to make the bots move in “Squarular Spirals”. Hannah was working with the Create, while Liam and Benjin coded for the simpler XBC. Both robots spun in plenty of circles (well, squares) of increasing size, thus accomplishing the goal and allowing our software people to learn a few new pieces of code.

he missed.Liam and Benjin were disappointed when Hannah’s spirals beat theirs simply because of Anthony’s faulty wheel construction. After some tinkering, though, Anthony has promised that we could attach a 10 lb. weight to the wheel and it would not break off; if anything happened, the entire Servo would fall off. But at least we won’t lose a wheel ever again.

The hardware guys have created a new Tribble Chucker, apparently capable of throwing Tribbles about ten feet.

“It’s very cool,” stated Mr. Newcastle, “but I’m not sure if it’s at all useful.”

Ben, Tim, and Hannah also played a bit of Tribble basketball, tossing the Tribbles into the pipes. Of course, missing was frequently blamed on the pompoms’ lack of aerodynamic qualities.

Plans are being made for the first feature-length film from BotCave Productions, Inc., entitled The Last Taquito. The film would not be suitable for small children because of its graphic violence and epic battle scenes.

The Robot Game

EPIC LASER BATTLE!Today was a very interesting day in the BotCave. The hardware guys were continually attempting to create a robot arm that would be able to hit things. Liam and Benjin put their coding time to good use by attempting to write code for a bot that looks like a chicken.

The Robot Game

Halfway through, we all headed upstairs to play a robot game called Roborally. Somewhat similar to our goals in actual Botball, we each had a tiny robot figure that needed to get somewhere. With a series of direction cards, we each set out to “write a program” for our robot. Once we each had a written program, it couldn’t be changed. When the moves were actually put into play on the board, though, the other robots provided uncalculated obstacles, and so-called “genius” plans were quickly ruined. Robots could push each other out of the way, messing up carefully calculated pathways and typically leading to plenty of robot death and destruction.

The conveyor belts and rotation pieces that were provided by the board added another touch of difficulty, and robot programs had to be skillfully premeditated with all of the board’s characteristics in mind. There were also some Holes of Death, which robots were known to drop into and were never seen again. The board also had a few lucky wrench spaces that could bring the player’s bot back to a damage-free state.


The greatest source of robot death was definitely the LASERS. After each move, if someone else’s robot was facing yours, and there were no walls in the way… you got zapped. I’m pretty sure Tim noticed this, after he got shot by three people at once during one turn, and then nonviolent Hannah continued to shoot him until he was forced to power down in a last attempt to survive. It failed. He died anyway… then died again.

Everyone was shooting each other and a robot massacre was imminent, but somehow Liam avoided the fray and reached the first flag with only one damage counter. Chris found himself trapped in the Robot Rotisserie for a series of turns… he was rotating against a wall while trapped in the path of a laser that was preset by the board. At the end of the round, I, too, was unlucky enough to get a bit singed, but the game ended before my robot was completely annihilated.

Oh, by the way, I lost the game.


hard at work!What is going on today? I’ve been working on the blog, trying to find a good image gallery plugin for wordpress. The hardware guys are rocking out to Anthony’s guitar hero-based playlist. Air guitar is pretty bad, but air guitar hero? It’s rather pathetic. The software guys + Hannah are trying to get the robots programmed to get somewhere. And there are taquitos. oh man taquitos.

our taquito ad.

hannah and ben working on the createHannah’s robot spun around and around without stopping. According to Mr. Gras: clearly she’s a dancer. The hardware guys created a model “street sweeper” that basically imitates a popcorn machine and repeatedly tosses the tribbles into the air. Useful? Maybe. Amusing? Yes.

The Checklist

The New Yorker recently published the following anecdote:

On October 30, 1935, at Wright Air Field in Dayton, Ohio, the U.S. Army Air Corps held a flight competition for airplane manufacturers vying to build its next-generation long-range bomber. It wasn’t supposed to be much of a competition. In early evaluations, the Boeing Corporation’s gleaming aluminum-alloy Model 299 had trounced the designs of Martin and Douglas. Boeing’s plane could carry five times as many bombs as the Army had requested; it could fly faster than previous bombers, and almost twice as far. A Seattle newspaperman who had glimpsed the plane called it the “flying fortress,” and the name stuck. The flight “competition,” according to the military historian Phillip Meilinger, was regarded as a mere formality. The Army planned to order at least sixty-five of the aircraft.

A small crowd of Army brass and manufacturing executives watched as the Model 299 test plane taxied onto the runway. It was sleek and impressive, with a hundred-and-three-foot wingspan and four engines jutting out from the wings, rather than the usual two. The plane roared down the tarmac, lifted off smoothly, and climbed sharply to three hundred feet. Then it stalled, turned on one wing, and crashed in a fiery explosion. Two of the five crew members died, including the pilot, Major Ployer P. Hill.

An investigation revealed that nothing mechanical had gone wrong. The crash had been due to “pilot error,” the report said. Substantially more complex than previous aircraft, the new plane required the pilot to attend to the four engines, a retractable landing gear, new wing flaps, electric trim tabs that needed adjustment to maintain control at different airspeeds, and constant-speed propellers whose pitch had to be regulated with hydraulic controls, among other features. While doing all this, Hill had forgotten to release a new locking mechanism on the elevator and rudder controls. The Boeing model was deemed, as a newspaper put it, “too much airplane for one man to fly.” The Army Air Corps declared Douglas’s smaller design the winner. Boeing nearly went bankrupt.

Still, the Army purchased a few aircraft from Boeing as test planes, and some insiders remained convinced that the aircraft was flyable. So a group of test pilots got together and considered what to do.

They could have required Model 299 pilots to undergo more training. But it was hard to imagine having more experience and expertise than Major Hill, who had been the U.S. Army Air Corps’ chief of flight testing. Instead, they came up with an ingeniously simple approach: they created a pilot’s checklist, with step-by-step checks for takeoff, flight, landing, and taxiing. Its mere existence indicated how far aeronautics had advanced. In the early years of flight, getting an aircraft into the air might have been nerve-racking, but it was hardly complex. Using a checklist for takeoff would no more have occurred to a pilot than to a driver backing a car out of the garage. But this new plane was too complicated to be left to the memory of any pilot, however expert.

With the checklist in hand, the pilots went on to fly the Model 299 a total of 1.8 million miles without one accident. The Army ultimately ordered almost thirteen thousand of the aircraft, which it dubbed the B-17. And, because flying the behemoth was now possible, the Army gained a decisive air advantage in the Second World War which enabled its devastating bombing campaign across Nazi Germany.

Learning from the mistakes of the Army Air Corps, the Dead Robot Society always uses checklists and have never crashed a multi-engine aircraft.